Each year, paperwork seems to be less and less about the paper.

The pressures to shift to a totally electronic (or paperless) Ph.D. seems to be increasing.

Whilst my budget doesn’t quite stretch to the luxury of The Filofax for instance, I’ve always preferred paper diaries above their electronic rivals.

The Filofax is not just a humble paper diary, but an organiser that often seems more like a lifestyle choice. It is a signal of a chic, sophisticated and ‘together’ user than just somewhere to write down appointments and phone numbers.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t see the point in being wasteful with resources, and most of these shifts are (usually) more efficient.

However, having tried and failed to use an e-calendar, I just can’t seem to let go of my paper diary.

And it turns out I’m not alone.

Kristin Wong has recently made ‘the case for using a paper planner’ in The New York Times, and I’m always pleased to see others get out their diaries when scheduling appointments.

It seems that the reasons for either sticking with the Filofax or resisting iCalendar are varied from having a great excuse to go stationery shopping to improving memory and efficiency.

I shouldn’t admit it, but I take real pleasure in finding a new diary and some fancy pens to match it.

It barely lasts a week, but those first few tidy and carefully inscribed appointment are, by far, the best.

Although the benefits of using a paper diary do extend beyond the aesthetic, there is no harm in a pleasant desk view.

Wong draws attention the mindfulness of handwriting, something that keeps me anchored to my handwritten diary (and Ph.D.).

I really am convinced by the physicality of inscribing times and appointment details onto paper as a way of helping commit things to memory.

This is something I missed during my (very) brief stint of keeping my calendar on my phone.

That said, I found that there are a few ways of getting the most out of a paper diary, and really get the benefits of the mindfulness Wong talks about.

It sounds obvious, but find the right paper diary

I like to use an A5 month-by-month system, and can’t work with fairly standard slim week-by-week or clunky day-per-page diaries. I like to see the whole month.

I work well under gentle pressure, so having an immediate sense of time really helps me stick to deadlines.

Pick a priority and stick with it

Wong talks of needing to choose a purpose for your diary, and this really is key. There is, of course, a balance to be achieved here.

It’s impossible to have a diary just for work, or a diary that doesn’t include any work.

For the most part, although mine includes “me time”, it is used for outlining Ph.D. progress as well as meetings, classes, and other work-related deadlines.

I use colour coding to make it clear what things mean – green for Ph.D., blue for deadlines, purple for yoga, and so on. This helps me keep my time organised quickly.


It’s great to keep your paper diary tidy and looking neat, but ultimately, it needs to do what you need it to do.

I start each new diary with the optimism that this time, I’ll write in only my best handwriting, and will keep this ordered and orderly.

Obviously, this never lasts longer than a week, but don’t forget that only you need to see your diary and it can only work for you!

Grace Harvey is a Ph.D. student researching 1790s English Literature at the University of Lincoln. She’s an avid tea drinker who also loves collecting records. You can follow her on Instagram.


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