Back to the Basics: Don’t Ditch the Paper Planner

December 1, 2023

Yanliu Huang, PhD, Zhen Yang, PhD, and Vicki G. Morwitz, PhD

Calendars are a key tool in most professionals’ workdays. The ability to properly track and manage obligations helps improve productivity, reduce stress, and drive success. Calendars improve time management and organization, reduce stress, and increase accountability. With the prevalence of technology, more people update and maintain calendars through a smart device as opposed to maintaining a hard copy calendar. But does using a mobile calendar provide the same benefits at the same level as a hard copy paper calendar? In our research, we found that not only do users of paper calendars achieve higher plan fulfillment, but they also seem to be more effective at developing higher quality plans by taking a broader, big-picture perspective.


The ability to manage a calendar with just a few clicks on a screen has driven people away from manually writing plans in paper calendars, purely for convenience sake. In a recent survey, 70% of respondents revealed that they relied primarily on a mobile or desktop calendar, with 28% relying on a paper calendar.1 We completed three studies to evaluate rate of plan fulfillment, quality of plans and the ability to take a big-picture view, and finally, the effect of calendar type on plan fulfillment as influenced by the mediating role of a big-picture view.

Stock Image of a Persons Arms Resting on a Desk and Monthly Calendar. Person Is Looking at a Cell Phone in the Left Hand and Is Using A Pencil To Write An Appointment on the Calendar

Our first study examined the effect of calendar-keeping method (paper vs. mobile) on plan fulfillment among study participants, who were randomly assigned to use either a paper or mobile calendar. Participants were asked to copy previously existing planned activities and add a study session and a leisure activity to their calendar. Two weeks later, participants were asked to recall their planned activities and indicate whether they had completed the activities as scheduled. The results indicated that participants using paper calendars were more likely to fulfill activities and to complete their activities on time compared to those using mobile calendars.

Study two was intended to determine whether plans created with paper calendars were of higher quality compared to those made with mobile calendars and whether this difference was due to the ability to take a big-picture view. Participants were randomly assigned to create a two-week plan for a home improvement project using either paper, a mobile-regular calendar (as they would without interference), or mobile-relational calendar (with an intervention recommending taking a big-picture view and scheduling in relation to other activities already scheduled). Results showed that the perception of the big-picture view was significantly higher in the paper calendar compared to the mobile-regular calendar, and it was marginally higher than the mobile-relational calendar. Furthermore, two independent raters judged the plan quality based on detail, comprehensiveness, concreteness, prioritization, subtask, sequence, amount of planning, feasibility, quality, and effectiveness.  We found that plans created with paper calendars were of higher quality compared to mobile-regular calendars and the differences between paper and mobile-relational calendar plans were marginal. The results suggest that taking a big-picture view is an important factor in creating high-quality plans.

Study three investigated the effect of calendar type on plan fulfillment using a validated measure of behavior (versus self-reported) and examined the mediating role of a big-picture view. Participants were randomly assigned to plan on either a paper or a mobile calendar and were then asked to schedule and complete a self-creation activity (e.g., gardening, cooking, art, or knitting) within the next five days. Participants were asked to upload photos of their completed plans to provide validation. A higher percentage of paper calendar users completed the activity as compared to mobile users, and paper calendar users also had a higher perception of a big-picture view. These results confirm that the big-picture view results in superior plan fulfillment.

The Big Picture in Real Estate

Taking a big-picture view of plans can help a real estate professional in schedule fulfillment by providing a better understanding of the overall scope and timing of various task responsibilities and appointments. By having a clear visualization of the upcoming events and tasks, agents can identify potential scheduling conflicts and adjust plans accordingly. Additionally, having a big-picture view can help agents to prioritize tasks and allocate time more efficiently. This may lead to more effective time management, reducing the likelihood of missed appointments or incomplete tasks. Overall, taking a big-picture view of plans can aid a real estate professional in maximizing productivity and ensuring that all tasks are completed on time.

Based on our findings, we believe real estate professionals will benefit from using a paper calendar as opposed to solely using a mobile or desktop calendar. Physically writing out a schedule on a paper calendar encourages taking a big-picture view, accounting for various environmental contingencies, and will likely improve an agent’s rate of schedule adherence, fostering higher-quality plans.

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Recommended Reading

Huang, Yanliu, Zhen Yang, and Vicki G. Morwitz (2023), “How Using a Paper Versus Mobile Calendar Influences Everyday Planning and Plan Fulfillment,” Journal of Consumer Psychology, 33, 115-122.

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  1. ECAL (2018), “70% of Adults Rely on Digital Calendar,” Retrieved from

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About the Authors

Yanliu Huang, PhD
Associate Professor of Marketing, Drexel University

Dr. Yanliu Huang’s (PhD – University of Pennsylvania) research interests are focused on new technology in marketing, in-store decision making, consumer planning, and consumer welfare. She conducts both field and lab studies to answer important research questions, including essential real-world business questions. Dr. Huang’s research has been published in leading academic journals, such as Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Marketing Research, Journal of Marketing, and Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. Her research has been featured by multiple renowned media outlets, including Harvard Business Review, Philadelphia Inquirer, Retail Leader, MSI Highlights, USA Today, The Economist, Yahoo Finance, LeBow Network, Drexel Now, Business News Daily, Science Daily, Stanford GSB Magazine, and Top of Mind with Julie Rose on BYU Radio. Dr. Huang is an Associate Editor at Service Science and is on the Editorial Review Board of Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, Journal of Consumer Psychology, and Journal of Retailing. She also received the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science Best Reviewer Award. Dr. Huang teaches extensively at the undergraduate, MBA, and doctoral levels. She is currently the PhD coordinator in the Marketing Department.

Zhen (Jay) Yang, PhD
Assistant Professor, California State University, Fullerton

Dr. Zhen Yang’s (PhD – Drexel University) research focuses on new technologies in marketing, digital marketing, and human-computer interaction. He is also a user experience researcher to uncover user behaviors across different computing interfaces (i.e., website, chatbot, mobile). Dr. Yang published in quality journals such as Journal of Consumer Psychology and Journal of the Association for Consumer Research. He won multiple teaching and research awards.

Vicki G. Morwitz, PhD
Bruce Greenwald Professor of Business and Professor of Marketing, Columbia University

Dr. Vicki Morwitz’s (PhD – University of Pennsylvania) research focuses on the impact of consumers’ self-predictions on their subsequent purchase behavior, the psychology of how consumers process price information, and the effectiveness of health-related messages. Her research has appeared in many leading academic journals including American Journal of Public Health, Harvard Business Review, Journal of Consumer Psychology, Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Marketing Research, Management Science, and Marketing Science. Professor Morwitz teaches Behavioral Economics and Decision Making to MBA and executive MBA students. Prior to joining Columbia, she served on the faculty of the Stern School at NYU for 28 years. She is a past President and a Fellow of the Society of Consumer Psychology, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, and previous co-editor of the Journal of Consumer Research.