Gadgets got your schedule scattered? Maybe it’s time to go back to paper.

Petula Dvorak
Columnist December 29, 2011

We’ve tried it, we really have: Palm Pilot, Treo, Google Calendar, Outlook, iCal, iPhone, iNeedtogetorganized.

All of them failed us in some cold, digital, blank, blinking, cruel way.

Petula is a columnist for The Washington Post's local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things. View Archive

“It’s just that it feels good to have something in your hand, something to hold on to,” explained Janet Shepps, an aerospace industry professional, as she stood inside the FranklinCovey store in Tysons Corner this week. In her hands was an old friend she’s decided to come back to this year: a brick of calendar filler papers.

I am so with her. And so are others. Enough for one industry analyst to dub the furtive return to paper planners a “micro trend.”

We are not just old-school, VCR-using Luddites. We have laptops and iPads and Spotify accounts. We text instead of voice mail, have ripped out our land lines and fall asleep with our smartphones, leaving imprints on our cheeks.

It isn’t the fear of technology that is driving us back to the chunky Filofaxes we stored away in a box also marked “shoulder pads” and “beepers.”

It is simply the way some people are wired organizationally. The way we understand the order of our lives.

“I see a lot of that, the return to paper,” said Linda Clevenger, a personal organizer and life coach whose company, Organization Direct, is based in Fredericksburg. “In fact, four of the seven clients I have right now have that issue.”

Are you ready to cop to your day planner purgatory? Your ­
e-mails­ and contacts are on your phone, but you’re clinging to those lovely little pages filled with scribbles and stars and circles that feel so familiar.

For some people, an appointment or commitment doesn’t sink in until it’s written down, pen-to-paper, said Ron Sopko, director of new business development at MWV Consumer and Office Products, the folks who make the Day Runner.

It could be a woman thing. Clevenger said she sees a gender divide among the people who still embrace paper.

Filofax, in fact, has a whole new line of buttery leather covers in happy colors and funky patterns, and women in the United Kingdom are reportedly snapping them up as fashion accessories. So fashionable that Vogue Editor in Chief Anna Wintour is rumored to use one.

But some men groove on paper, too. Take Air Force Chief Master Sgt. John Millington, for instance, who strode into the FranklinCovey store in a leather jacket.

“I can’t believe he still uses this stuff,” said his pal, Senior Master Sgt. Ray Fleming, shaking his head and scoffing at the organizers. “I’ve got my BlackBerry, my Droid.”

“You don’t need paper anymore,” he jabbed his friend.

Millington, 49, scowled. “That BlackBerry is like an electronic leash,” he snapped. “I’ve got mine, and I used to use it a whole lot. But I just like to have it on paper.”

Fleming, 40, raised an eyebrow.

“I can reference it a lot easier. If I want to look for something I did, I just flip to that day,” Millington continued. “It’s like a picture. You see it on your phone, all small. But there’s nothing like holding it in your hand or looking at it big.”

Still, the reasons to go digital are obvious. It fulfills the primary key to time management and good planning — everything is in one place. The entire family can sync to one calendar. One spouse’s business trip is on the same, virtual page as a school play and taekwondo practice. You can add business meetings to the family calendar from work or tap in a doctor’s appointment from a phone. It’s stored in the cloud so, unlike a paper planner, it can’t be lost.

So why haven’t I been able to make it work for me? I’ve been struggling with going paperless ever since my first, kidney-shaped PalmPilot in 1999.

It crashed, died and erased all my appointments constantly. I found new ways to foul it all up when I upgraded to a Treo. That device kept repeating everything I put in each day, so I was living a confusing, Groundhog Day schedule. The dentist at 10:15? Again?

My husband and I tried Google calendars, which became a competitive scheduling calamity in which he blocked out completely unreasonable chunks of time for suspect “staff meetings” during the exact times that certain football games were on or maybe on a Saturday morning when I had suggested a family hike. Yeah, right.

Last December, I got a teeny, tiny lime green Moleskine planner that I shoved in my purse, hidden. And it felt good to be on paper again.

Folks like me who use digital and paper are called “co-users,” and we’re keeping sales of the daily planners steady, said Sopko — the Day Runner guy.

And that’s remarkable, because even though many people are heading over to digital, a whole new population of young people is going to paper.

“Younger kids, people leaving grad programs and going into the work world, are buying their first paper planners because they feel more professional using them,” Sopko said. “They say: ‘If I’m sitting with my smartphone or laptop, who knows what I’m doing? It might look like I’m not paying attention.’ ” So they’re going retro.

Regardless of age, many folks are a little secretive and even defensive about their paper dependency. But it’s one area where a lot of time management and life coach instructors don’t really scold.

“Are your tools helping you? That’s what matters,” said Adam Merrill, the vice president and general manager for innovations at FranklinCovey headquarters in Utah.

Basically, being digital isn’t cool if you’re still a mess.

“Rule your technology, don’t let your technology rule you,” Merrill said, repeating one of the company’s mantras.

Fantastic. A bigger fuchsia planner will totally rule 2012 for me. You?

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