Hyrum Smith, time management authority and seller of thousands of Palm Pilots, was asked in 2009 about technology and planning. This is what was said.
Q; Technology today offers many electronic options for managing time, but I still love my paper planner. Are we seeing a return to paper and pencil, or is the trend going toward electronic tools?
“My impression is that there is a surge returning to paper. I will never forget when 3Com brought in and put on my desk the first Palm Pilot. I played with it and thought it was a great toy, but no one will ever buy one. I turned out to be wrong about that. We strongly embraced technology at our company and sold 10,000 Palm Pilots a week for several years, and then all of a sudden, we didn’t. People stopped buying PDAs. I thought, “I’ve got to try the Palm Pilot.”
I put away my paper planner for 13 months. I went to a PDA and I discovered that I could do everything in my Palm Pilot that I could do in my paper planner, but I wouldn’t. The reason I wouldn’t is because it took too much time. It was too hard to do. I came back to my paper planner because of the ease of the operation. What I discovered was that for managing tasks, appointments, and taking notes, a paper planner is four times faster than any electronic device. There is a whole host of reasons for that, but I will just leave it at that level. A paper planner for tasks, appointments— managing me—is four times faster.
Now, there is a place for technology. I carry a BlackBerry. I love my BlackBerry. What do I use it for? I can communicate my calendar to my people. I can download The Wall Street Journal. I can check my email. It is a wonderful phone. But for managing me in the heat of the day, my paper planner is more effective and it is faster. I have had letters from CEOs, senior vice-presidents from all over the country, telling me, “Hyrum, I’m back to my paper planner. I’ve got control back in my life.” In fact, just a year ago, a senior VP from Merrill Lynch went through our seminar. She said, “Hyrum, you trained me 18 years ago, I went to an electronic device 3 years ago, I lost control of my life. I went back to my paper planner and my control is back.” There is something about writing on paper that a human being likes.
The thing about those three things: tasks, appointments, and taking notes, and if I know how to retrieve those notes—the magic of the Franklin Planner is the retrieval system. The minute I write a note in my planner, I’ve given that note a root in time. I will always be able to find it. There are three different ways for retrieving information from a Franklin Planner. I can do it with lightning speed. If you don’t understand the mechanics of the Franklin Planner, you don’t understand why people would use that instead of technology. If you’ve gone through the class and you’ve been taught well how to use it, it is a dangerous tool. I’m a paper guy myself.”
I’ve spent a few hours pondering about using my smartphone for planning, but I can’t get around the size of the keyboard, the fiddliness of the note-taking facilities, the constant spell checking by me or machine, the fact that the phone will be gone at the end of a contract along with all that I record on it (no, you never really take the time to transfer it all), and the poor way the diary/task management software works in reality. Not to mention the fact that for all that tech provides, all smartphone users are still carrying around heaps of paper anyway.
And you and I both rely heavily on To-Do Lists, do we not. And I’ve not seen a smartphone that does a To Do List as well as a bit of paper.
If the leadership of companies like Merrill Lynch think paper is best, who am I to argue?
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