As far as I can tell, personal productivity has changed very little in the past 30 years in spite of the efficiencies of technology. One of the results of technology has been to speed up the pace of life. We are working faster, driving faster, communicating faster, eating faster – in short, living faster.
But much of the time savings gained by technology have been offset by increases in complexity, choices, interruptions, expectations, stress, delays and errors. Our bodies are not designed to operate at warp speed and yet eating on the run has become the norm. Sleep, in many cases is seen as an annoying necessity. And we are probably spending more time getting well than staying healthy.
We have automatic washers and dryers; but we have more clothes to wash and we wash them more often. Cars go faster; but we have more distances to travel and we have to contend with more traffic, construction, and gridlock. We complete specific tasks quicker; but experience more interruptions and timewasters. The division between work and personal life has become blurred.
Our executive function skills – those brain-based skills that allow us to execute tasks – including focus, working memory, sustained attention and goal-directed persistence are becoming weaker. Discretionary time is disappearing. Information overload, ADHD diagnosis, stress, inefficiency, and lack of balance are increasing. Perhaps we moved too quickly and too completely into the digital world. It’s as though our goal were to increase speed rather than productivity.
A UCLA study found that people who adopted a healthy lifestyle instead of constantly manipulating their BlackBerrys and cell phones, within a matter of weeks, showed improvement in memory scores and reasoning.
Balancing high-tech with high touch can actually strengthen “executive function skills.” It pays to limit technology and maintain balance in your life .I suggest this could be done by welcoming more paper back into your life – which to most people might think is a backward step. But technology writer Danny O’Brien interviewed top achievers and found one thing in common that may account for their increased productivity. They all used some sort low-tech tool, such as a written “To Do” list or a plain paper pad.
Using a paper day planner for instance serves to ground me in reality. I can touch it and feel it and see my scheduled projects the moment I open it. Writing down an appointment solidifies that meeting in my mind, while dictating it to a handheld device makes little impact, little commitment, and little chance I will even recall it the next morning without setting an alarm.
A pen in hand generates focus, attention, commitment, and a “do it now” mindset – something many of us lack. Written down, a name or number stays in working memory longer and has a greater chance of making it into long-term memory for later recall. Fast is not necessarily better; it’s just faster.
Similarly, I prefer to make handwritten notes while on the telephone, jot ideas on a steno pad instead of reaching for a handheld device, write notes on an “Action Sheet” in meetings, and, heaven forbid, even write personal notes on hardcopy birthday cards and send them by snail mail.
There is a place for digital devices. And I do own a handheld Android, an iPad, a netbook and a laptop. And like most people I do online banking, use e-transfers, make calls with Skype, shop online, have a PayPal account, participate in social media, and correspond by email. But I also use a paper day planner and a hard copy follow-up file system, a telephone log booklet, paper checklists, note pads, sticky notes as well as read hard copy books. Paperwork adds structure to my life – because paperwork IS structure.
Your day planner is the most important time management and life management tool, so choose it carefully. It’s not a case of just jotting down things to do. Any device can do that. Planning involves visualizing the future you want and then taking the necessary action in the present in order to make that vision a reality. Your goals are simply snapshots of the future you visualize. These snapshots are then expressed in writing and entered into your day planner as a constant reminder of where you are headed. Here are five things an effective planning calendar should include.

  • A place to record your goals since they are an integral part of the planning process.
  • A place to record your mission statement as well since it reminds you of why you your purpose in life and forms the launching pad for your goals.
  • Each day broken into 15 minute increments, including Saturdays and Sundays as well as evenings to facilitate the scheduling of personal as well as business projects and activities.
  • Daily follow-up sections to record deadlines for assignments due, birthdays and other special events, and notes reminding you when to check the follow-up file.
  • Weekly and daily “To Do” sections to record non-priority items that should be done.

One big advantage of using paper day planners is that you never lose sight of your past. You have a permanent record in your own unique handwriting – your dreams, goals, achievements, activities, and highlights of a lifetime. Your planners serve as journals or diaries – personal mementos of a flesh and blood unique individual, complete with likes, dislikes and personality quirks. You leave footprints long after you have passed on.
You could record the same information in an electronic handheld device; but it’s very unlikely to happen. The purpose of the PDA is to get things done faster, not record them. But it’s easy to scribble notes, times, places and directions in a hardcopy day planner. And it has a permanence that surpasses electrons, immune from an instant delete.
Long after they were gone, my parents were alive again in my mind through their papers – meticulous notes of income and purchases, appointments and events. I could imagine their struggle to keep five children clothed and fed during the great depression, along with their health problems and their hopes and dreams of a better life. I could relive my own forgotten years, the youngest of five boys, oblivious to the hardships that my parents must have endured. None of that would have been revealed in an iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry or other PDA if one had been available at the time.
I record events in my day planner after-the-fact as well. If we meet with someone simultaneously or decide at the spur of the moment to attend a movie or go to a restaurant, the first thing I do when we get home is jot the information in my planner – the time, place, and phone number of the restaurant. At the end of each year, I print that year on the spine of my planner and store them in chronological order in my bookcase.
My life story is in those planners – from my teen years (little pocket calendars) through college, and my forty plus years as an entrepreneur, husband and father. As I get older and the threat of dementia looms, I take solace in the fact that I will never lose my memories; they are recorded for me as well as for my offspring. It sure beats I designed the Taylor Day Planner over 35 years ago, and it still serves me well.
Living in the digital age of speed, I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I hand-write all my books and articles before dictating them to my computer using voice activated software. But I quickly regain my self-esteem when I recall the story of the tortoise and the hare. The objective was clearly not to run the fastest, but to win the race.