Cal State Fullerton Marketing Expert Uncovers How Paper Planners outperform digital ones…

by California State University, Fullerton

Zhen (Jay) Yang,

Zhen (Jay) Yang, assistant professor of marketing

22 December 2023: Big life changes often involve putting a plan with multiple steps in place. Research by Zhen (Jay) Yang, assistant professor of marketing at Cal State Fullerton, shows that — when it comes to setting and achieving long-term plans and goals — paper planners typically outperform digital ones.

The study, co-authored with Yanliu Huang of Drexel University and Vicki Morwitz of Columbia University, found that the design of paper planners makes it easier to see weekly and monthly schedules at a glance. These layouts help users prioritize and organize their tasks, then create backup plans more effectively, Yang said.

“Accordingly, their plans are also more likely to be fulfilled,” Yang said. “The act of writing things down imparts a sense of formality and increases the likelihood of accomplishing tasks.”

Digital calendars, in contrast, have interfaces that focus on individual days and smaller time periods. It takes more effort to view and examine activities happening close together, Yang said.

“When individuals use mobile calendar apps, they typically have to ‘open’ a day to enter new event details,” Yang said. “A smartphone screen is small, so the default calendar layout of most mobile calendar apps folds up details of daily events. For instance, the iPhone calendar only has dots under each date.”

To address this, Yang said mobile app developers could design calendar apps that help users see a larger view of their scheduled events to “improve plan quality and facilitate plan fulfillment.”

For example, using a tablet as a planner could be helpful due to its larger screen size, Yang said.

“This might not be an issue for digital planners in the future if a device’s screen size is larger, or if consumers are wearing a VR headset,” Yang said.

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