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The Beginners Guide to Digital and Paper Planning

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Have you ever found yourself struggling to choose between paper and digital methods of planning? It’s taken me many years to find a planning method that works well for all the appointments I juggle each week. Finding a rhythm for planning that seamlessly blends into your routine takes time and a willingness to adjust when something isn’t working.

I’ve found that I plan best with both paper and digital calendars. I discovered this through trial and error after testing many different planners. At the beginning of the year, I’d start my new planner, then find that I was avoiding using it. I tried to use Google Calendar as my only planning method, but that felt very chaotic and disorganized to me. You may have felt similar. Life doesn’t have to be lived in chaos, and a great calendar system can help you evaluate the scale of your commitments. I started asking myself why it wasn’t working for me. In those curious questions is where I started to find solutions.

In the next few steps, I’m going to walk you how I switch between a paper and digital planner, and how I filter my appointments between the two. Let’s dive in:

Step One: Setup the Digital Calendar

My Google calendar is my “master calendar”. It’s the one that my husband and I share a calendar on, it holds all of my event addresses, and it’s the one that syncs between all of my computers/digital devices. I start with this calendar because it’s the one that has my reoccurring appointments, such as meal times and our Bible study group. I’ve created a number of “sub calendars” to organize my digital life. Each of the sub-calendars are color-coded as a way to organize. The digital color-coding coordinates with the highlighters I use in my paper planner. The color coding I use is: personal appointments are green, work is yellow, family is grey/blue, self care is pink, and my blog/hobbies are orange.

For your digital calendar, start by adding in all of those reoccurring appointments and any other important dates you’re already aware of. Items like birthdays and holidays that happen on the same day every year get set to reoccur every year on that day. If you’re using Google Calendar, they have a “holidays calendar” that you can add to your account; no need to add them all manually. For birthdays, create a “new sub-calendar” that includes all of these. It keeps them organized and on their own calendar “layer”.

Step Two: Setup the Paper Calendar

When using the digital + paper hybrid planning, I have found I only need a monthly view in my paper calendar. The details are housed in my digital calendar, so the paper version of weekly or daily views are not necessary. The goal of the paper planner is to stick to big picture planning.


Take a 15-20 minutes to add all of the reoccurring appointments, birthdays, holidays, etc for the current month and following two months (i.e. January + February + March). This will fill out your paper calendar for the first quarter of the year. I often have important dates come up in advance. Getting everything in my paper calendar allows me to see the big picture of what my future months look like, so I don’t have to make adjustments last minute.

Step Three: Add Appointments Intentionally

Next, add the appointments you know are happening this week, and in the near future, to both the digital and paper calendar.

In the paper calendar, only include the name of the appointment and maybe the time (rather them the time, I’ll often put the appointment in the general area of the box that the appointment is occurring – morning, afternoon, evening). In the digital calendar, include the name, date, time, location, and any other details that are important for the event. These appointment should be meetings that do not repeat, but are using hours in your week.

In the Google Calendar, block off time for traveling to/from the location, any preparation that’s needed before hand, and the time needed to follow up after. The idea with this is to look at where each minute of your day is going. This allows you have the time/space needed to complete a task before moving on to the next one. When you get to the end of your day, it allows you to have completed items, instead of 10 items that are partially started.

Step Four: Develop the Day to Day Habit

As you go through your day, find a rhythm for inputing/transferring appointments between the calendars. Does it work best for you to do that the night before? At the beginning of the week? Or while you sip your morning coffee?

Before saying yes to every appointment that comes your way, it’s ok to let the person know you need to check your calendar before committing to a request. Remember, your paper calendar will be giving you the big picture of your blocks of time and your digital calendar is giving you the details. My daily rhythm looks like this:

At the end of the work day, I’ll write out my tasks for the next day. I’ll add those tasks in my Google Calendar with the estimated amount of time I anticipate them taking. Blocking my time allows me to see how much time my appointments/tasks are actually taking. The next morning, after I finish my “getting ready” routine, I open my calendar and make sure I know what is going on that day. I’ll see things like my blocks of time for meals, work appointments, and any personal appointments I added the day before. My meal plan for the day also coordinates with my digital calendar so I know how much time meal prep is going to need.

If I get a request to meet up, I’ll look at both my digital and paper calendars; with the digital one I’m checking that I’m not already booked, and with the paper calendar, I’m evaluating what is going on around those dates (day before & day after) so that I am not completely worn out by the time I get to the meet up. The paper calendar helps to visually see and evaluate my energy output through the week. In my experience, I found it hard to evaluate my energy output with a digital calendar because I can’t see blocks of time in a monthly view.

As you’re scheduling your days, it can be helpful to keep in mind the big picture goals for your life. What are you pursuing for your year? Do you have a One Word goal that is driving your decisions? If you don’t have a one word goal for your year yet, go grab my free worksheet to walk through the process of creating a vision for your year. The appointments on your calendar should point back to and reflect what you want your year to be about.


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This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. Very helpful post. I’m mostly digital with my calendar and paper with my to-do lists and business plans, but know several people who still keep a paper calendar or planner. 🙂

    1. Thank you for reading! That’s great that you’ve been able to go all digital with your calendar. I’m looking forward to when Google Calendar’s month view shows how much space each event is taking in the day. I use a combo of Click-up for my project planning and paper for my weekly to-dos. 🙂 It’s always fun to see how other people do their planning too.

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