ARTICLE: “Electronic vs. Paper Organizers: Which is Best?”

I’m often asked, “Should I use a paper or an electronic time management system?” The simple answer is yes and no, but not both. In other words, use one method or the other, but stick with it consistently. I find that most people would either describe themselves as “paper” people or “technology” or “electronic” people. I, myself, am a “paper” person. I know how to use the gadgets, software, and technology, but I always find myself reverting back to a paper system when I venture into new territory.

Some people have to use electronic calendaring software at their workplaces, to allow others to check their schedules and plan meetings. So go ahead and note your commitments there if you have to, but copy it to your paper calendar if you prefer to carry that with you. Yes, you could sync your PalmPilot and eliminate the double-entry, but some people hate the little stylus and the “gadget” feel. If trying to force yourself to use something you hate makes you not use it at all, I would absolutely recommend double-entry back to your paper system. I do it. I can beat you hands-down finding something using my paper system vs. an electronic tool. Not that I’m against them; I just don’t prefer it for myself. There is no “right” or “wrong.” I like a written to-do list and a visual view of my monthly appointments, so I stick with the planner.

So find out which way works best for you and stick with it, no guilt, no excuses. Here is a brief summary of what I find to be the advantages and disadvantages of paper vs. electronic tools.

Paper Organizer/Planner

1. It can’t break or run out of batteries.
2. You can quickly flip to a month-at-a-glance calendar and view every day of your entire schedule.
3. Pretty, designer planner pages and page finders
4. More room for note-taking at meetings
5. No double entry of those notes back at the office. You take notes and index them right in your planner.
6. Can write and look up information more quickly than using a stylus with a PalmPilot.
7. Customizable. You can add/subtract features and forms that meet your needs.
8. Yearly inserts run about $30; very inexpensive to maintain

1. You can lose it, and there is no backup.
2. Run out of room in A-Z tabs to write names, addresses, and phone numbers.
3. Must rewrite information when people move.
4. Gets messy with frequent updates.
5. No security or password required. Others can flip open your planner and view your information.
6. Can be large and bulky. Smaller versions often don’t have enough writing surface and calendar space.
7. Often overflowing with assorted papers and sticky notes if you’re not organized.

Electronic Organizer/PDA/Palm Pilot

1. Lightweight, small, and portable
2. Holds thousands of contact names and numbers
3. Has a search capability to find to-dos and contact names
4. You don’t run out of room to list today’s “to-do” list
5. You don’t have to re-write to-do lists when you don’t complete items; they roll forward automatically
6. Always current when “synced” with desktop computer
7. Perfect for frequent travelers
8. Integrates with Outlook and popular contact management databases
9. If wireless, can access email 

1. No month-at-a-glance view. You must click on individual days on a monthly calendar to see appointments for that day.
2. Note taking is tedious and time-consuming with cryptic shorthand, or you must carry a separate keyboard.
3. Double entry. Requires the use of a pad of paper to take notes, which must be typed into computer a second time back at home base.
4. Can’t carry papers and notes in it for a meeting. If you carry a separate pad, it defeats the purpose
5. Expensive machine and add-ons
6. Risk crashes, data wipeouts, and being on the road without your calendar (unless you also take your laptop, which defeats the purpose)

© 2001 Laura Stack. All rights reserved. You are free to use portions of this publication in your company newsletter, provided the following credit is listed at the bottom:

Laura M. Stack, MBA, CSP, is “The Productivity PRO,”® helping people leave the office earlier, with less stress, and more to show for it. She presents keynotes and seminars on time management, information overload, and personal productivity. Contact her at 303-471-7401 or visit her website at