Inching Towards Digital

Most people would probably tell me that I over-plan for just about everything.  I’m sure this is true to a point.  But I am truly in awe of people who don’t plan anything.  I often wonder how they know where to be at any given moment or what to do when they have a free moment.  How do they know what they need from the store when they’re there if they don’t make a list?  I can’t fathom this kind of life, and yet, sometimes, I’m jealous of it.  As much as I love to plan and organize, I have to admit that sometimes it’s a little debilitating.  I create so many rules and guidelines for myself, that I often feel chained to them, hindered by the shackles of the organizational rules I “have to” follow.  I envy the free life of not caring about lists or writing things down or accomplishing my to-dos.  I often ask myself why I plan so much.  The answer of course is that I like to, that it makes me feel in control and calm, which says a lot about my personality.  I don’t much care for craziness and the out-of-control feeling that craziness can create.

However, I can be organized and well-planned without binding myself to rules and guidelines, right?  I have been thinking a lot about how I might be able to let up a little.  I can organize and plan but not ridicule myself if something doesn’t get done.  I can plan for some things and not others.  I can slowly step into some digital planning, just to see how it feels to not be so bound to my planner, to let go a little of everything that I have always done.  Just like those people who don’t plan, I’m also in awe of people who do it solely digitally.  I just can’t fathom trusting some gadget—any gadget—to keep me as on top of my game as my planner does.  But other people seem to handle it just fine, so why not me?

In the past week or two, Zoe and I have hashed out the pros and cons of digital planning and what we might use in conjunction with our planners and how it might all come together.  I have been using a combination of paper and digital for my planning for a while now.  Swap out the iTouch with the iPhone I got back in July, and you are now up to speed on everything I use to keep my life together.  But I wanted to explore a little more.  What other digital avenues could I experiment with?  I downloaded a few organizational/productivity apps to play with:
  • Remember the Milk (RTM)
  • Evernote
  • Apple Reminders app (well, this one came with the phone, but I just started using it)
  • Siri (same as above)
  • And just as I was doing a Google search for the Reminders app, I came across Checkmark, which I will definitely have to check out next (a review might just appear here soon)
  • To add more confusion to the pile, you can read additional reviews and comparisons of to-do apps here and here (I know I will be checking all of these out) as well as so many others, I’m sure

I downloaded RTM and Evernote based on all the good things I have heard about them.  I played around with them a little and decided that while both were good for various things, I probably wouldn’t use either one very often.  They are still installed on my iPad and occasionally I poke around in them, but the bottom line is that my planner works too well to switch to something like either of these.  I like to have everything in one place, which is what my planner provides.  I don’t know that I could function with some things being in RTM and some in my planner—how would I know what is where?  I might use Evernote for projects and such, but probably not for everyday to-dos lists.  And while RTM works with your Google calendar and Siri, I just can’t split up my to-do items.  It hurts my brain too much.

But, with the Reminders app, I can easily use it when I’m out and about.  For example, the other day I used it for my grocery list.  Usually, I write down everything I need on a pad in the kitchen.  When I hit the grocery store, the paper comes with me.  I cross off the items on the list as I pick them up.  This week, I transferred the items from the paper to my app and checked off items as I got them.  The one hitch here is that the item only gets a checkmark next to it, no line through the item itself, which I like because I can see at a quick glance which items I still need to get.  The checkmark forces me to look at not only the items themselves but the spaces next to them to see if I’ve already gotten something.  Once checked off, items will move to the “Completed” list and disappear from your current list, but as far as I can figure, you have to go out and back into your current list in order for that to happen (perhaps it refreshes after a certain amount of time, but I’m too impatient for that).  That’s too much work for an app that’s supposed to make my life easier.  The other problem I found with using the phone for this purpose is that I don’t feel comfortable putting the phone down in the cart in order to use both my hands when picking up items, scanning the barcode, and placing them neatly in the bag, like I would with a sheet of paper and a pencil.  I have to put the phone in my pocket or in my bag, turning the screen off in the process so that I don’t hit something accidentally, then having to put my code in when I’m ready to pull it out and use it again.  Too much work there.  Sometimes paper and a pencil are just easier.  I’m not ready to give up this app for my grocery list just yet—I may continue to try it and see where it leads.  But I can say that I’m leaning more towards the paper than the app for this purpose.

I have successfully used this app for other errands, however.  When I go to the pharmacy, I usually pull out my running list that I keep in my planner.  I cross items off my list as I pick them up and put the sheet back in my planner, assuming there is still room to write on it.  (Filofax paper is too expensive to not use until there is absolutely no more room on it.)  In order to not have to fumble with my planner inside the store, the sheet comes out and goes back in while at home.  With the Reminders app, however, I can transfer items that are on my list to the app and check them off as I go throughout the store.  Yes, I do spend a little extra time moving items from a paper list to a digital list, but there’s no fumbling with paper at any point.  I simply whip out my phone and away I go.

I have used the Reminders app a lot within the last few days to remind me to do small things too, things I wouldn’t normally put in my planner—look up the new Lincoln movie; remember to add my sister-in-law’s travel itinerary for Christmas to my planner; after my niece’s soccer game, hit the ATM.  I can set time-specific reminders for these little things so that I remember to do them at the approximate time I am able.  (Yes, I can set reminders based on location—like the minute I get home—but I don’t like the fact that the cloud Gods are watching my every move and know where I am at every given moment.  It’s just a thing with me.  But maybe someday I’ll try it.)

Now, getting to Siri, I don’t often take advantage of her.  However, I had such an occasion to do so the other day.  On my way home from work, I came across a closed road.  It was bad weather and a transformer had blown, causing a small fire.  This road is one that my brother-in-law uses during his commute.  I figured I should relay the information so that he could choose a different route.  Texting him was made complicated by the fact that I was driving.  Immediately I thought of Siri.  So I told her to text my brother-in-law.  It worked like a charm.  So I figure that I can take advantage of her when it comes to reminders as well.  If I’m driving and think of something to add to my to-do list (I do some of my best thinking while driving), I can ask her to add it and remind me about it later.  Heck, I don’t even need to be driving to do this!

I still don’t see that I’ll ever give up my paper planner, although I have poked around a bit for calendar and planning apps.  I think the issue there (aside from trusting any all-digital system) is that there doesn’t seem to be one app out there that does it all as well as my planner.  Like I said above, I like to have everything in one place.  Most apps are either strictly calendar or strictly to-dos, or for those that do have both, they don’t work in a way that I am used to and like (a daily and monthly view, for example; or being able to add to-dos to a certain day rather than just keeping a running list).  If I ever find the “perfect” app, I might be tempted to at least try it.  But we shall see.

And as I type this, the thought has come to me that I could use my phone for all of my extraneous lists and keep my planner just for contacts and my calendar.  This would sure give me more room in my compact binder, allowing me to keep more than three month’s worth of daily pages, and would save me the time of moving items from paper to phone each time I run errands.  But then the question is, how would I organize my tabs?  Currently, I have six tabs running down the side.  In the past, I have used three down the side (two at the top and one at the bottom) but it sends my OCD tendencies into overdrive, not using a complete set of tabs.  However, I could do top tabs instead, taking advantage of the Martha Stewart tabs I have.  Hmm, I will have to toy with this idea.  Oh the options!

I will be sure to update you all on what I decide to do, whether or not I can even move some items to a digital platform.  In the meantime, if you have any suggestions or comments about how to incorporate digital organizational options, please let me know!


  1. I had to laugh when I read this post. Not laughing at you, of course, but how people go back and forth about paper vs. digital. I used to be one of those all digital people and now I'm steadily returning to paper with sheer delight. It works so much better for me. I'm dead tired of tech fail.

    Yet, I do use Evernote extensively, but not for planning. I use it to store notes, writing and research. I can't use it for everyday notes though because Evernote doesn't work unless it is connected to wifi in my iPod Touch and therefore I can't see notes on the go. Ouch.

    I say, enjoy those Martha Stewart tabs and your Compact Filofax. Paper is a good thing. :)

    1. This is the first time I've seriously considered incorporating digital planning into my system. I've always used it to a degree, but more for temporary things, like just reminders to add something to my planner. However, after messing around with it a little last night, I'm leaning more towards staying with that and not moving anything over permanently. I know people who use it digital and nothing else, yet in this community, there are so many people who moved back to paper because digital has failed them. I've had my own experience with that as well with my work to dos. Evernote does seem good for projects, but I already have some projects in my google docs/drive. I'll have to check and see what the difference is between them. No matter what technology arises, I will always enjoy my planner and tabs of any brand!

      Thanks for your comment!

  2. I have tried and tried and TRIED, but I just can't do digital grocery shopping lists. First time I tried to go digital was on a Palm device, which I fumbled and dropped in the produce section of a Publix, and that was the end of that Palm. I have since tried on various smartphones, but it never feels quite right. I am an extensive list maker/meal planner/frugal shopper and I like to have an eye on the big picture even as I cross items off my list. I think it will always be paper for grocery shopping for me.

    1. Yeah, I can see that happening very easily to me. I was not all that fond of handling both the phone and the grocery items at the same time, let alone checking off those items digitally, trying to figure it all out. I might give it one more try, but I have to say that the paper and pencil are calling my name already.

  3. This is great! I love to read about people going back and forth between digital and paper, especially as I am not a "non planner," but I definitely do not keep anything near the level of detail in my appointments and lists as the others in the Philofaxy community seem to do.

    Here is the basic overview - to do's, I generally don't keep them. If I can't remember, it must not be worth remembering! ;-) My filofax is used entirely for appointments (social and doctor) and birthdays. The only digital list I keep is in Google calendar, and that is for birthdays. Google calendar is great to remind me to wish someone a happy birthday, but with my very large family, I have to go card shopping every once in a while for groups, and I am already slightly overwhelmed at the "three days before" alerts to remind me to mail the cards on top of "tomorrow" and "today" reminders, I couldn't have another set of reminders for buying, so I love my "filofax birthday sheets"!

    For shopping lists, I keep them on paper. I tried doing electronic lists, but the items would already have been written down on paper before I could even have my phone out. Truthfully, I often just go up and down the aisles seeing what I need. Often, I remember stuff that I hadn't put on the list, but I every once in a while, I'll have forgotten something I needed. Good thing I live in suburbia with stores everywhere I turn!

    Regarding Siri - let's just say I tried to set reminders, make calls etc., and then when I couldn't get it to work, and I asked if she was stupid, she responded by saying she didn't think that was a very nice thing to say! (Siri, all I wanted was to set a reminder for my wedding anniversary as a test, and you asked me if I wanted to do all kinds of weird things!)

    Electronic is often finicky, and there is a learning curve you definitely don't have with a pen and paper!

    1. Yeah, I have to say that technology is finicky, and that's where the frustrate comes in. By the time I get the tech set up, I could have written it all down. Form something that is supposed to make my life so much easier, it actually makes it more frustrating sometimes.

    2. That is EXACTLY what I found - it makes it much more frustrating. Once you pass that crux of the learning curve, it should be second nature, but when you have such an easy alternative (paper), it doesn't give you much motivation.

      Actually - just last night, I was speaking with my sister, and she is getting her husband and iPod of sorts (he's years behind for a soon to be 33 year old), because, and I quote, "he needs to stop using pen and paper for his schedule." Ahh, I'd love to see how that turns out! :-)

    3. I don't really understand why people feel we "need" to move from paper to digital. Yes, in some ways it's easier (less paper, less clutter in regards to bills and newspapers and whatnot) but really, it's just a matter of preference, like anything else in life. Why is it that in this particular area we're thought be old-school if we keep with what has always worked rather than move to the digital? I'm not sure why it matters to other people so much, lol.

  4. I use an app called Wunderlist for my to-do lists (and other random lists). It's free and syncs across a phone app, iPad app, desktop app and website. It's really good.

    1. I have heard of Wunderlist. I'll have to look into it - thanks!


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