Guest post by David: Digital envy, the myth of progress and staying clear in focus

Today I have a special treat for you: a very interesting guest post by David Popely on the eternal question of going digital or staying with paper for our organisation and time management. Please go over to David’s blog for more goodness, after you are done reading here, and also take a look at his filofax set-up posted here. Thank you David for writing such a great post!

I’m grateful to Paulien for the opportunity to write this post, and I’ve tried to make it as current to where I am right now in my personal organisation as I possibly can. If it has a sense of ‘work in progress’ about it, that’s because it is!

I’m a long time user of paper planning systems. I first got interested in personal organisation in the early 1980s, and quickly moved from an old fashioned ‘bound’ diary to a Filofax binder (my church minister had one and I thought they were super-cool), then to a duplex (two ring mechanisms) Filofax, and finally discovered the Time Manager International system, which I stuck with for well over two decades before lately moving back to Filofax – for how long I’m not sure. Along the way I flirted and experimented with a variety of electronic gadgets, early PDAs, computer software (I had a great program called Lotus Organiser which actually looked like a Filofax digitised on the screen), and more recently smart-phones (I’m in the BlackBerry camp). However, through all of the digital experimentation, I have always been driven to return to paper. Paper won’t delete, duplicate or corrupt your information (unless you drop it in the bath, which so far I’ve managed to avoid, unlike my smart-phone), it’s always quicker to access than a gadget, always on, is compatible across all platforms, can be used on trains, buses and in motorway service areas without regard for wi-fi availability, offers unlimited perspectives on the information within it (no toggling backwards and forwards between screens here) and is in every respect effortlessly superior to any electronic gadget out there.

And yet……

From time to time, like most of us, I suffer from Digital Envy. Those gadgets look so clever, so speedy, so……shiny……surely they must represent an improvement on my cranky old paper-based system? They’re so portable, and my Filofax (whether Personal or A5) is, well, not so portable. Surely I’d be better off with a gadget?

(This is, of course, precisely what the gadget marketers want you to believe. In reality everything I’ve said above is true, but they have a job to do…..)

A few weeks ago I found myself suffering from this Digital Envy, and so I made myself a Plan. I would transfer my organisation to Digital, the Cloud would seamlessly keep all my desks, computers, laptops, smart-phones etc in perfect sync, and I would enjoy a new freedom from having to carry around an organiser the size and weight of a house-brick. Or so I thought….

First step was to download Google Sync to my BlackBerry…..easily installed, and after a bit of a wait, duly synced. Google calendar and contacts duly synced.

Because Google Sync doesn’t have a facility for syncing Google tasks (don’t ask me why), a secondary  option would be needed for that. Evernote is widely regarded  as being the best option for this, so Evernote too was duly downloaded and synced.

All set to go, yes? Ready to sit like a colossus astride the digital world, watching my data, diary, contacts and information seamlessly follow me, wherever  go.

Well, er…

It was about 24 hours before problems with my new digital setup set in. Firstly, Google Sync just doesn’t know how to handle repeating regular appointments. I promise you, if you have scheduled regular diary appointments in Google Calendar  and use Google Sync for very long, you’ll  end up with 32 (more if you try for longer than I did) separate appointments in each slot where there was once only one. This multiplication will take place on both your handheld and your desktop Google calendars, every time there is a sync – and believe me, that’s a lot of times in the average day. Trust me – I’m now an expert at deleting multiple appointments.

Secondly, Evernote has real issues with syncing – it downloads note headers only, so if you want to see the body of a note (maybe it’s a shopping list or list of things to do when in a particular city), you’re going to have to find a steady phone signal (on your smart-phone) or wi-fi signal (on your laptop) for Evernote to work at all.

72 hours into Project Digital, and I could no longer trust my digital data. Now – if I had had that data with me in paper form, in under 15 seconds I could have extracted the organiser from my bag, flipped through to the relevant page, ticked off tasks completed or items bought, and been in a new place of trust with my now-updated data.

No contest.

This is why I will argue with anyone who cares to, that a paper-based system beats a digital system hands down, every time, and that anyone serious about keeping control of their time and their life should invest in one, if they haven’t already. It’s part of the myth of progress as expounded by marketing people throughout the world to convince us that the new is always and unquestionably better than the old. Sometimes it can be hard to convince early adopters that their shiny new gadget (on which they’ve usually spent several hundred pounds and/or locked themselves into a lengthy contract to hire) isn’t actually going to be an improvement on the old, and sometimes not even on the very old, but that’s the way it is. Time will always tell, and class will out, as they say. My Filofax looks great, works beautifully, and I wouldn’t swap it for any gadget you can currently offer me. Except, maybe, another Filofax…..

In fairness I should add that like most paper users these days (although there are exceptions), I keep my main contacts database on my phone and nowhere else….the phone just provides such instant access that it’s not worth doing any other way. But for everything else, its paper, and I have every confidence that it will continue to be so for the foreseeable future.

So the next time Digital Envy comes your way (and it will) remember this – we tried it, we gave it a chance, and it failed.

And that’s without even beginning to consider what happens with a digital device when you want to look something up on the London Underground……

Happy organising, and remember….stay proactive.




  1. I posted as much shorter note with 2 examples, just two days ago, on why my Filofax still beats electronica in many areas: I know they can’t completely replace PCs, especially for the curse of the modern age, which is email, but they still cannot be bettered in so many areas. My Lefax Chelsea is glued to my hand and goes everywhere with me. I do use my iPhone calendar at work, as we get electronic invites for meetings, conference calls, etc. But they go straight into my Filofax and that becomes my de facto tool. The most important contribution the iPhone makes is ringing an alarm, 5 minutes before an appointment, and that is about it.

  2. Christina

    My daughter’s iphone calendar has deleted everything in it – twice! Both times she has turned to THE BOOK (what we call my organizer which contains everything about everyone) to re-enter her appointments.

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