Boosting Productivity With Paper Planners Part I With Julie Bestry

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TBT 139 | Paper Planners
Many people may be enamored with digital planners and calendars, but a lot still go old school with paper ones. Ultimately, it is a matter of personal choice, but paper planners do offer their own set of advantages aside from their obvious charm. There are many ways that you can actually boost your productivity with paper planners even more than with digital ones – and all that without the digital fatigue! Professional organizer, Julie Bestry makes the case for it on the show with Penny Zenker. Julie owns her own professional organizing company called Best Results Organizing in Chattanooga, which has been going strong for 20 years.

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Boosting Productivity With Paper Planners Part I With Julie Bestry

On this show, I’m searching high and low for some of the best people who are going to help you to work smarter because, at the end of the day, you don’t want to work harder. You don’t want to do more. We want to achieve more in less time. I’m looking for those people who are going to help you do that. I have a special guest, Julie Bestry. She’s a Certified Professional Organizer. Watch out, she’s going to get us organized here. I have to say that even though I talk a lot about time management and it tends to be a lot about the organization, I can get distracted easily. I can be clutter filled. We need to get some tips from Julie. I know that I put structures in place because it’s a necessity. That means for you guys too, for various different reasons. She’s in her twentieth year in business and her company is called Best Results Organizing in Chattanooga. She’ll tell us more about her as we go along. Julie, welcome to our show. 
I’m glad to be here. Thank you, Penny.
Tell us up front why you’re an organization freak?
I used to work in the television industry. It’s fast-paced and kooky. If you don’t have your resources to get on everything on the air at the right time, you’ve got dead air, you’ve got a black screen, and people at home don’t know whether their TV blew up or somebody goofed up at the station. It’s important to be organized. As a program director at a TV station, I found myself helping other departments streamline and organize their resources, traffic department, and sales, so everybody could talk to one another. I eventually found that was the more interesting part of what I was doing. As much as I love television, I found that working for myself and not having angry phone messages on Monday morning because somebody didn’t like which football game we were playing on Sunday, I could let that part of it go.
What we are most meant to do finds us. You’re doing that and then you ended up coordinating across multiple groups, and what we do naturally, then naturally attracts. 
Right around 9/11 is when I left the television industry. My syndicators, people we work with who were up in the air that day was stressful. A lot of people, right after that, left the industry. I was trying to figure out what I was going to do next. Within the course of about a week, I found out about professional organizing as an industry. This was unrelated, but my best friend from college bought me a present. She brought me a label maker and I thought, “That’s a sign that I’m headed in the right direction.”
We cede our control because we’re focused on what we are going to be perceived to have done. Share on X I think the sign was that you were excited about the label maker. It’s good that your friends know you so well. We’re here to talk about planners and organizers because people don’t spend enough time planning. What’s this statistic that for every hour you spend planning, it saves you ten hours in the backend. Is that what the stats is, do you know? 
That’s one of the stats I’ve heard. I’m one of those people who believe that the metric doesn’t necessarily matter if the feeling works because if you save any amount of time, a stitch in time saves nine. Any effort that you put forth that brings you a return on that investment is going to be worth it.
What I’m trying to prove to people who are reading because we’re so busy that we don’t take the time to plan. I want to stop people, make them step back, and realize that there’s some proof out there. I hear what you’re saying that at the end it’s proven, but to get them to take the motivation, maybe they have to understand that there is a return on investment there. 
One way to authentically and organically prove it is to think about how much you accomplish in, let’s say, the 2 or 3 days back when we had vacations and could go places. People who aren’t innately planners sit down in the week prior to leaving on a vacation. Sit down with lists like your guest, Paula Rizzo, talk about it. They look at what needs to be accomplished and they start planning. They might have a wall full of Post-it notes, they have scribbles all over the desk, or maybe they have something online. People who aren’t even planners use paper planners, use digital, and do something to plan their focus because they want to accomplish something and they’re like, “They get on that plane and they feel that sense of accomplishment.”
You’re planning so that you can feel that sense of accomplishment at the end of the day, the end of a week, or you’re planning so that you feel like you’re keeping your head and shoulders above the tide. Planning is essential if you’re going to try and get where you want to go. Imagine going on a trip and saying, “I’m in Washington, DC. I’m going to San Francisco. I’m going to drive and not having a map and a GPS, and I’m going to follow the sun.” It’s only going to work so far and then you’re going to end up having cows blocking your path.
It’s so important that we need to make that time. I love the vacation analogy because it’s true that we get organized before the vacation because there’s that much more motivation. That’s an interesting thing. We’re going to talk about organizers a little bit and there are different types of organizers and reasons why we use organizers. Let’s go into the types and the reason. 

TBT 139 | Paper Planners

Paper Planners: With paper planners, there is no learning curve, and best of all, no digital fatigue.

In the professional organizing field, we’re often talking about them as planners because that’s what you’re doing with them, whether it’s a basic calendar or something more complex. We’re going into all of these weighings, “Are we going to go digital, we’re going to have apps on our phones, or we’re going to go with paper?” I’m a paper person, that doesn’t mean my clients use paper, but it means that if somebody is more inclined to use paper, I’m going to let them know. I’m off and letting them know, “It’s okay in the 21st century to be using a paper planner,” because people feel a little guilty about that. There are all of these apparent advantages and disadvantages and I go, “Not so fast.”
I set them up as dichotomies. There’s heart versus head. A lot of paper planners are designed to appeal to aesthetic print preferences. It’s like, “I like pretty office supplies,” or they’re aspirational features where you’re going to put your goals versus your tasks and appointments. Digital things appeal to purely functional, practical people, or so they say, but there are a lot of practical planners out there. That’s heart versus head. Ease versus learning curve. Unless you pick what I think is a super complex DIY planner like bullet journaling and I know people love bullet journaling.
You’ve got to be creative and want to do that.
With most paper planners, there’s no learning curve and with a lot of techs, there is a learning curve. The interesting thing is there’s digital fatigue out there. People said, “Nobody’s ever going to read books again. It’s all going to be eBooks,” but the sales studies show that Millennials are buying more and more print books than eBooks. Google and various other companies are banning electronics for when they’re doing five-day workplace sprints because they know it helps increase focus and clarity. Going digital with all of the beeps and boops and notifications across your screen means that the learning curve is sometimes a little too steep and the frustration of the technology. Cost versus free.
Sometimes because of that learning curve with the digital side, we throw the baby out with the bathwater. The minute we get to know something a little bit, we use it for a little bit and then we fall back into old ways or we didn’t know how to use it effectively. We blame the tool. It’s the tool’s fault and then we move on to the next tool. We’re constantly on this learning curve with these digital products.
Especially because the products keep changing. Evernote is a perfect example. When people start with Evernote, they tend to use it almost like a file box. It’s like they can cook something from the web and it’s there. If they get some training, they see how powerful it can be. The company that makes it comes out with all of these changes and then there’s that learning curve there. You and I were talking about Trello. You can use a little bit of Trello or you can be a power user but it’s daunting when we already have incredibly busy lives. This is a reason I like a paper planner because there’s nobody over the age of about eight who can’t figure out how to put what they need to in a paper planner. There are more efficient ways versus less efficient ways to use a paper planner but you’re not going to, all of a sudden, pick up your planner pad or your Franklin Planner one day and find that the pages look completely different from how they did yesterday.
It’s important to identify for yourself what works for you and what doesn’t because everybody has different ways of working and that’s fine. Part of the process is to see what works best for you so that your planning is most efficient and effective. That you check in on it and see, “Is this working for me? What do I need to do to make this work?”
All these things that I’m going through these dichotomies will come down to one thing, it’s commitment. Any system you have, whether it’s paper, digital, or hybrid, and whether it’s for planning, filing, retrieving or creating anything, only works if you commit to that system. It’s a relationship like any other. If you’re speed dating, if you’re trying three days of doing this system and two weeks at this planner and bouncing back and forth, you’re never going to commit to that relationship. It’s never going to be as rich or as robust as that 40-year marriage.
You may not be able to control time, but you can have mastery over your schedule. Share on X It’s cost versus free. In other dichotomy, people think, “All our digital stuff,” or maybe an app is a few dollars. There are a couple of pricier ones, but for the most part, keeping track of your appointments and your planning things, it’s all whatever’s already in your phone or your computer. You have to buy a planner. Sometimes your investment increases your commitment. You and I couldn’t have planned this better, this back and forth. I see this all the time with people with clutter in their homes, you go to a conference and get all of the swag and the swag bag, people bring back all the free stuff, including the hotel shampoos. It sits there and piles up until the professional organizer comes and says, “We can find a nonprofit that can use this stuff better. What is this thing even anyway?”
If there is a small cost to something, that cost is probably being offset by somewhere in the back of your brain making more of a commitment because you don’t want to have wasted that money. There’s private versus searchable. Anytime you’re dealing with something where you’re putting all of your information, either somewhere in the cloud or even on your computer, there’s always that little tingle in your head that’s like, “Who can get at this?” Not that you’re going to be putting a lot of deeply personal stuff. Unless you’re involved in corporate espionage, there are not a lot of secrets in your planner, but your planner is yours personally.
Think about when you’re eleven years old, you’re doodling your first name and that cute person’s last name in your notebook. I hope you’re not doing that in the note section of your planner because if you’re in your 30s or older, that’s weird, but if you are, nobody sees your planner but you. Another big thing is the dichotomy between control and convenience. If you go to schedule something, let’s say, when you sent me the email to create this appointment, all I had to do was click on a little button that said, “Accept.” I had to make the choice. Do I want to accept with comments or without comments or I could have rejected it? I’d never reject you. Whereas, when you have to stop and have some depth of thought regarding your time and how much effort you can put into not just being somewhere, but preparing to be somewhere, and you’re using a paper planner, you’re going to look at everything in context.
Control versus convenience, I’m always going to lean more toward control except when it comes to food because I don’t cook, I want convenience, and they can put whatever they want in my food. When we’re brainstorming, scheduling, and breaking our projects down into discrete tasks, we’re thinking about context. When you see a whole month of appointments and you’ve got a paper planner, you instinctively go, “That’s a heavy week.” I’m going to ask this person, “Can we go a week later?” Whereas if all you’re seeing is a little accept or reject icon, it’s going over on your calendar and you’re not spending a lot of depth of time and effort in your digital calendar, which is the case I find for most people. You’re going to find yourself constantly responding to other people’s needs instead of focusing on your own.
You’ll be quickly overbooked. That point of control is important. It’s something that’s coming up over and over these days, not around our planners. We’re in a time where there’s a lot that’s out of our control. There are a lot of things going on with politics, weather, COVID, and health-wise, there’s a lot of stuff that we can’t control and there are things that we can influence. Those are the circles of influence. I find that there’s an interesting relationship that we have because we’re all control freaks in some shape or form. We try to control the things that we naturally can’t control and that creates stress. 
There’s this weird thing that I’ve recognized, this is where distractions and planning come in. It’s where we do have 100% control, we don’t take it. I’m trying to wrap my head around this because there’s a story or something more that I want to bring out about this. What’s your thought on that? We’re digressing a little bit, but it’s back to the same thing and it’s coming from a different perspective from your side with the planners. What’s going on there? Why don’t we take control where we can? 
We think we are controlling things or we don’t believe we can. In the year 2020, it’s easy to have 2020 hindsight, but when you’re in the hole, it’s hard to dig yourself out. A lot of times we need something outside ourselves. One of the reasons why accountability buddies work so well is because we can have everything written down in our planner. We can have our list of what our tasks are. We’re good at fulfilling obligations to other people. We cede control because we feel if we are going to get where we need to go, we’re going to fulfill our obligations to others.
You and I had a plan to do this show. Whatever else was going on in my day, I knew for a fact, I was going to be sitting here with you. Without not only a good plan for my day, but also without that willpower and stick-to-it-iveness, everything that was about meeting my own goals could have gotten lost in the rabbit hole of going through social media or reading the news. I don’t think it’s intentional on anyone’s part. We end up ceding control because we’re focused on what we are going to be perceived to have done, what other people are going to know we did, and we’re so exhausted by that. When we have an opportunity to let our guard down, we get grabbed and sink further into the morass of all of those interruptions.
It brought me an interesting point of view. We cede our control because of our need and our desire to please others. We don’t take it back because we were exhausted. That’s a new insight for me. I have to move that around and think about it. Let’s bring that back around to how planners can help us take back that control and please ourselves first. 
It’s partly figuring out the power that a planner can have. I have this theory and nobody’s proven it yet, but associated fields have proven it. There’s something called the encoding hypothesis. It goes into the studying of note-taking. There are two different kinds of generative note-taking. That’s when you’re in eleventh-grade math class, a history course, or you’re in a meeting, even a Zoom meeting and you’re taking notes. You’re not transcribing it. You’re summarizing, paraphrasing, and trying to get at that concept mapping. There’s nongenerative note-taking, it’s when your spouse says to you, “We need this from the grocery store,” and you write down exactly what they say. You’re taking a turn by turn directions. You’re writing that list and writing a transcript.
There was this study published in Psychological Science. Professor Pam Mueller at Princeton and Daniel Oppenheimer at UCLA looked at how note-taking by hand affected learning versus note-taking by computer. There had been other research into this that said, “You learn more from taking notes by hand.” The theory was like, that’s because there’s multitasking, there is a distraction, all those beeps and boops, and all the different things you can see on the screen. Mueller and Oppenheimer looked deeper and they found that when you’re trying to learn concepts, transcribing gives you a shallower intellectual processing field. That’s what they called it. They did three interrelated studies. They saw that students who took notes on laptops performed worse on these conceptual questions than students who took longhand. No word on whether they were printing or writing in cursive, but the laptop note-takers were transcribing.
They were trying to write down what they were hearing verbatim. Their brain wasn’t processing the information and reframing it in their own words. It was copying it. That’s probably because you can’t handwrite as fast as someone else can talk. You tend to pick out the key thoughts and you translate it when you’re not transcribing. I have this theory that when you’re using a paper planner, it works the same way. When you schedule an appointment digitally, you’re jumping in and typing things. When you are planning your tasks for the day, it’s copying over things, looking at your email, and typing things down. When you’ve got a paper planner or a notebook, when you’re bullet journaling or anything like this, you’re looking at the context. You’re thinking about what information is going to be essential.

TBT 139 | Paper Planners

Paper Planners: You can’t handwrite as fast as someone else can talk. You tend to pick out the key thoughts. The same thing might be happening when you’re using paper planners.

The difference between saying, “I should give a speech about this thing on Thursday,” versus, “If I’ve got to give a speech about this on Thursday, I’ve got to get the speech at least outlined and written by Tuesday so I better do my research on Monday.” You think with a greater depth of context when you have to write something down versus when you type it. A lot of times people will say, “Did I send you an email about that or did I think about that?” People remember if they wrote an actual handwritten letter, sent a birthday card, or left a Post-it note on somebody’s windshield because there is the intellectual, cognitive, and physical all being bound together.
Studies have also shown people who journal. The studies have also shown that through journaling, you go deeper into your processing. This is all linked in terms of that writing is creating that deeper thought and a deeper connection to it.
It explains why in twelve-step programs in mindfulness courses and a variety of disciplines, they’re recommending journaling. I’m terrible at journaling but yay for anybody who is good at journaling.
There are different ways to journal too. There are different ways to plan. Some of them can be filled in this sentence. Some of them can be blank paper. It depends on what type of person you are, as to which one of those is going to be the most effective. Do we have anything more that you wanted to share about types and specifics around planners? 
About the mindset for going in, we’re good for that. We got deep because if you know why all of these decisions are important and you know why paper planning might be a good option for you, you’re much more likely to feel a little less guilty about not using the fanciest app. The more you think about why you do anything as Simon Sinek called Why, if you know you’re why, you’re going to be much more empowered to make all of your other decisions.
The why before the how. The how will figure itself out if you’re connected to your why. I know that they like these 30-minute shows or whatnot. We’ll have to plan a second one, but what do you feel is the next one before we close out the show?
Thinking about what person you are. Do you want simplicity and flexibility? Do you want something that’s going to let you get into the nitty-gritty of writing down every little detail of your life? In terms of what content is going to go in into your planner, do you want one that has a place to put appointments and tasks? Do you want one with motivational quotes and cartoons? Do you want habit tracking, budgets, a place to plan your meals and write down your gratitude bullet points, and do your goal setting? Do you need creative fields for brainstorming for taking notes? Do you have good handwriting? If you have nice, precise, architect student handwriting, you can have small boxes. I have big loopy, crunchy, wrinkly handwriting. The more you type, the less precise your handwriting is. I need adequate space to show my appointments. You have to know do you want a great big binder that feels gravitas about that weight in handling it? Do you want something that will lay flat on your desk and have an executive feel to it that you’re not going to be carrying around with you to appointments? Do you want aesthetic concerns to be considered whether you want big rings or coils?
There’s a lot that goes into choosing a planner. 
Some people want a fancy zippered leather binder and other people can get at a glance, schedule that looks like how they used to write down appointments at the dentist’s office. The key is you have to know yourself. If you know your style, you can move forward to finding something that’s going to work for you. At our next opportunity, we can talk about not necessarily what brand recommendations, but what types are good for what an individual is hoping to do with their planner.
We’ll talk about what types in another call, a little bit more detailed about time-blocking. I’m sure you’ve got some more specific tips and tricks up your sleeve around that too when we get into specific planning your week. That’ll get all of you excited about part two and we’ll probably go even deeper. Where can people find out more information about you, what you do, and all that you do? I know that you can help people virtually since we’re not meeting in person. Where would they go to contact you? 
You go to and you can find my blog, which is mostly about paper, but all sorts of organizing. There are articles about organizing the other areas of your life and information about my services. 2020 is the year of doing things virtually. All of those discussions too.
Is there anything else that you wanted to share during this interview before we sign off? 
If they don’t think of it as control, they can have mastery over their schedules. For people who have had difficulty mastering their time, there are solutions for you.
It all starts with getting in that right mindset and knowing what works for you and what doesn’t. Thank you, Julie. I’m looking forward to having you back and doing a second interview because I know we’ll get into some more details as well. 
Thank you. This was great.
Thank you all for being here. You’ve got part one and you know that there’s more. I want you to keep scrolling or whatever you do and get subscribed so that when new episodes come out, you’re going to be notified and be able to catch it right away. I’ll see you in the next episode.

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About Julie Bestry

TBT 139 | Paper PlannersJulie Bestry is a Certified Professional Organizer, starting her 20th year in business as president of Best Results Organizing in Chattanooga, TN. In her previous career in the fast-paced, detail-oriented, and wacky world of television broadcasting, Julie developed a passion for inspiring good organizing skills and systems with patience and humor. Julie particularly loves eliminating paper chaos and motivates her overwhelmed residential, home office, and small business clients with the motto, “Don’t apologize. Organize!”
In addition to helping her clients save time and money, reduce stress, and increase productivity in a guilt-free environment, Julie has been interviewed by local and national media, including Real Simple, Kiplinger’s, and Redbook. She presents teleclasses and workshops, both virtually and (when we aren’t in a global pandemic) in person. Julie is the author of the book 57 Secrets for Organizing Your Small Business (currently out of distribution, but a second edition is in the works), blogs as Paper Doll, and writes various organizing themed articles and ebooks, including “Do I Have to Keep This Piece of Paper?” and the popular “Tickle Yourself Organized.”
A 19-year veteran member of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals, Julie has achieved Golden Circle veteran status and has served on the Board of Certification for Professional Organizers. Locally, she sits on the board of directors of Chattanooga’s Partners and Peers for Diabetes Care. Julie is a native of Buffalo, New York, and holds a Bachelor of Science from Cornell University and a Master of Arts from Syracuse University.
Julie loves organizing paper and setting up filing systems, hates paper clips, and does not answer the telephone during prime-time TV. She believes in controlling her schedule instead of letting it control her and is decidedly NOT a morning person. She wants you to know that you can replace the chaos in your life or business with serenity.
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