Daily planners: paper or electronic?

January 4, 2012

For longer than I care to remember, the following items have occupied the top spots on my New Year’s resolutions list: exercise every day, organize the basement and find the perfect daily planner.

While I can almost guarantee the first two items will make a repeat appearance in 2013, I have made it my mission to scratch the last one off my list for good.

But deciding on a personal calendar system is more difficult than it sounds.

I want a month-at-a-glance calendar with boxes big enough to write in; something that can sit open on my desk, can be easily tossed into my bag and is stylish. (No cutesy covers, please.)

Simple, right? Apparently not, because every year I find myself flailing planner-lessly well into March before settling on something out of sheer necessity.

Yes, I know: There’s this thing called technology, and it can make my life easier.

But I’m a paper person. And nothing, not even my arsenal of Apple products, is going to sway me to the other side.

There is something supremely satisfying and reassuring about scheduling an appointment or writing a to-do list by hand. And getting to cross one of those items off when completed? For a task-oriented person, there are few things better.

Another clear advantage of paper? Permanence. Once I write something down, I know it will not suddenly, and without warning, disappear. As paper company Graphic Image says on its Web site, its products are “crash proof.”

Like me, Sarah Pinto searched for years for a paper planner that worked for her. She eventually gave up and decided to create her own. In 2007, the San Francisco resident launched www.sarahpinto.com, an online company that sells planners, notebooks and postcards.

“I’m a visual person,” she says. “Even if I make a grocery list on my iPhone, I write a paper list, too.”

Also like me, she has no plans to become paperless.


The author’s daily planner/organizer, a SmartDate from Russell & Hazel. (Matt McClain/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

“I worry about my phone dying,” she says, “or things being accidentally deleted by my kids.”

Because creating my own planner isn’t going to happen (see: exercise and basement organization, above), I went to some of my go-to sources to find a 2012 calendar.

I browsed the Paper Source, Kate’s Paperie, Graphic Image, Moleskine and See Jane Work and found lovely options, but none that met my exact needs. They were too big, too small, too bulky or too trendy or included too many for pages for extraneous things, such as expenses, anniversaries, addresses and maps. Some appeared perfect until I looked inside and realized the calender format was wrong for me.

Finally, I went to one of my favorite Web sites for office supplies, Russell & Hazel,and found a potential winner. (Caution to discerning paper people: Visiting this site can be hazardous to your bank account. You’ll want one of everything.)

Its 10 3 / 4-by-12 SmartDate planner is a build-it-yourself system that allows me to choose everything according to my needs and my style. I could opt for daily, weekly or monthly calendar views, or all three, and add things such as ruled sheets, index dividers and address pages. Or not. There is a 7-by-9 mini version, still big enough to easily write in, which would allow me to keep the planner open on my desk or easily toss it into my bag.

And there are accessories such as rubber bands and pretty, pink to-do pads, that I would probably find impossible to pass up on. (Because, really, besides the perfect planner, they are essential to keeping my life running smoothly.)

Customization comes at a cost, however. When I was finished building my system, my shopping cart totaled $73. But, if this system works for me, I should have to shell out only for the calendar ($18) and filler paper refills ($10) in the future.

Overall, it sounded like a great fit, but I wanted to find out more. So I called Chris Plantan, founder and owner of Russell & Hazel, to get her thoughts.

Plantan started her high-end stationery and office supply company as an
e-commerce site in 2003. Since then, Russell & Hazel has blossomed into a thriving business that has seen double-digit growth five years in a row, says Plantan.

“While we are all tech dependent . . . there is a big segment that still loves paper,” she says. “We still make lists, we still print out information, and we still file and keep important documents. It is difficult to do everything we need to do in a day on a screen, whether mobile or desktop.”

Plantan says the binder-based system is one of the company’s best-selling items, with sales growing 20 to 30 percent every year.

She uses a mini system herself: a silver binder filled with month tabs, daily sheets and a mini notebook.

“I have things written down, I have things clipped to it. . . . My personal and professional things are all in one place, and I can take it with me,” she says. “It ends up being a journal of sorts, and it’s fun looking back. I keep mine every year.”

Simple, smart and stylish.

Sold.

Chat Thursday at 11 a.m.

Chris Plantan of Russell & Hazel joins staff writers Jura Koncius and Terri Sapienza for our weekly online Q&A about design and household advice. Submit questions here.

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