Home » OPINION » Columns » PHIL HARDWICK — In search of the perfect written planner

PHIL HARDWICK — In search of the perfect written planner

When it comes to written planners, I am a maximizer, not a satisficer. It seems that I am in constant search of the very best when just any one of them would do.

Why written, and not electronic? And which one do I always come back to? Read on to learn the answers to these profound end-of-year questions.

Planners are wonderful productivity tools. Most contain an appointment calendar, a task list section and a notes section. Many business planners have a section for expenses. Electronic versions are known as personal information managers the most well-known of these being Microsoft’s Outlook.

I use both a written planner and an electronic planner. Each has its own advantages and shortcomings. Electronic planners are superb for searching for items in the past, present or future. In my case, I need to make several reports about my activities and work. If I want to know how many presentations I made during the past year I simply enter “presentation” in the search box. If I want to know how many meetings I attended at the State Capitol or John Doe’s office, the PIM cannot be beat. It is, of course, dependent on entering the proper information to be retrieved. So-called tags have made that process even easier. So why even bother with a written planner?

First, research has shown that when we write something by hand we learn it more effectively and usually produce a better result. A study, headed by Virginia Berninger, a University of Washington professor of educational psychology who studies normal writing development and writing disabilities, looked at children’s ability to write the alphabet, sentences, and essays using a pen and a keyboard. An article by Gwendolyn Brown in the October 5, 2010 issue of the Wall Street Journal entitled “How Handwriting Trains the Brain – Forming Letters Is Key to Learning, Memory, Ideas” reported on several studies that handwriting increases cognitive skills and learning in adults as well as children. Therefore, writing a daily summary in my planner seems better.

Second, writing is more expressive than typing (keyboarding). Sure there are exclamation marks and capital letters and ways to make smiley faces using the keyboard, but writing allows for more variation and expression.

Third, although most PIM’s allow for notes they do not provide for sufficient space for a journal or diary.

Fourth, written planners provide a way for a person’s legacy and life to be better understood and appreciated. For example, there is nothing to replace picking up a handwritten personal journal of a great-grandparent and reading and account of a business conference in Chicago, a theater play (with ticket stubs taped to the page) or a Christmas family gathering. Personally, the legacy factor is the most important reason for using a written planner.

I will concede, however, that keyboarding is a more efficient and faster way to get thoughts in print, so to speak, than handwriting. Keyboarding is replacing cursive writing in many schools. From the website of the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity comes this:

Many educators have ultimately concluded that keyboarding is a far more effective and relevant skill for a modern-day education. .. Many experts predict that cursive will ultimately become an art form rather than a common means of written expression.

Oh well.

Nevertheless, I’m still looking for that perfect calendar/planner/journal. The one that I keep coming back to is the Moleskine large calendar. It lets me customize. It is also the right size, 5 inches x 8.25 inches. Also, it contains some useful information such as time zone map, international holidays and more. The daily page, which is lined, allows me to create my own format. I use the top one fourth of the page for my appointments, the next fourth of the page for my task list and the bottom half of the page as my journal. On one of the blank pages near the beginning of the planner I list my goals for the year.

Speaking of goals, research also reveals that the keys to accomplishing goals are to write them down, share them with others and be held accountable. The writing it down part is what speaks to me. It also spoke to Jim Carrey.

In an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show Carrey he shared what his life was like in the 1980’s. It was not very good. He was virtually homeless. He would drive up to Mulholland Drive, look down on Los Angeles and visualize what his life was going to be in the future. It was then and there that he wrote himself a check for $10 million, dated it Thanksgiving 1995 and wrote on it, “for acting services rendered.” He put the check in his wallet and referred to it often. It was his version of writing down his goal. You know the rest of the story. He became a successful highly paid actor. What you may not know is that just before Thanksgiving 1995 he received $10 million for his role in the movie, “Dumb and Dumber.” The segment can be found online at: http://www.oprah.com/oprahs-lifeclass/What-Oprah-Learned-from-Jim-Carrey-Video

At the end of the calendar year, it is a good time to pick up the written planner and look back at the goals for the year. To contemplate the ones that were achieved and those that were not. To consider, if you will, the ones that were written down with your own hand.

This method may not work as well for you as it does for me. One system is not necessarily better than another. The best system is the one that works for you. So as this year draws to a close, here’s hoping that it was a good one for you and your organization and wishing that the coming year will be even better.


» Phil Hardwick is coordinator of capacity development at the John C. Stennis Institute of Government. Pease contact Hardwick at phil@philhardwick.com.


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