Want less stress, better focus, improved memory? Here’s how

Sure you have your cellphone to help you keep track of stuff, but for 2017, try a paper planner. It might make a difference.
Sure you have your cellphone to help you keep track of stuff, but for 2017, try a paper planner. It might make a difference. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Now’s your chance to get 2017 off to the right start and solve a couple of New Year’s resolutions with a single purchase (although there’s a tip at the end for not spending any money).

If you want to be more organized, more focused, less stressed and improve your memory, we suggest you start with getting a 2017 planner. Yes, bound paper pages delineating the days, weeks and months.

I know, I know. Hear me out!

If you’re like us, you love your smartphone. You live and die by your smartphone. You start to shake and perhaps perspire a bit when you are more than a room away from your smartphone. It is an extension of your brain, a constant companion and trusted friend.

Well, studies continue to show that this co-dependence isn’t great for us. Our memories are suffering. Our attention spans are dropping. Our stress levels are rising. And our ability to prioritize is ailing.

When you’re responding to every bing, bell and chime, it’s easy to get distracted from what’s most important. And usually that’s the person standing right in front of you.

So as is the natural order of modern humanity, most advancements are greeted by a strong, compelling movement to go back to something simpler, less advanced and more grounded in the here and now.

Right now, that movement is calling you to order a paper planner for 2017.

The tactile act of writing down appointments is two-fold, you’re making a physical record and visually stimulating your memory. People are also more apt to underline, doodle around and highlight things on paper, further enhancing memory. That is harder to do digitally.

And once you look at your planner for a week or a month, you can determine where you’ve been spending or wasting time. You can ask yourself why you didn’t get more done or ask why are you doing so much. You can start to schedule in fun. If your schedule is full of the uninspiring, what can you do to liven it up. When should you schedule your vacation?

Just adding events like a salsa class, live music, knitting circle, book club, etc., to your calendar as reminders will drastically increase the chances that you'll actually go. And unlike a digital calendar where you don’t tend to see the items until the day of an event or the day before, a paper calendar encourages you to look ahead, which continually stimulates your memory and your ability to plan ahead.

And you don’t have to do one or the other. You can still keep your digital calendar as a fail safe but use your paper calendar to plan. Note birthdays before Facebook chimes in to remind you and perhaps you'll even make a note on a shopping list to buy cards and send them to a few special people instead of just typing a few bleeps in an electronic message.

Planners are not one-size-fits-all, so consider how you’d like to organize your schedule. Do you want to carry around a physical planner or hang one on the wall. Do you like looking at the entire month? Day? Week? Do you need a to-do list section?

Although carrying a planner can be cumbersome if you’re not used to it, it’s arguable that the physical presence can make you more mindful and more accountable. If you’re filled with anxiety at the thought of losing it, you can clip an anxiety-reducing location tracker (such at the Tile Mate, to the binding.

Pick a style that works for you. If you can imagine a format, you can probably buy it. Find something that’s visually pleasing to you as well as functional. Some people like the days to run vertically, instead of horizontally, or they want one day per page versus seeing a week every two pages.

And if you’ve got a little creativity and more of an independent streak, try the Bullet Journal, It’s an intriguing system of building a planner that suits your own personalized style. It requires more effort because the pages are largely blank but that’s on purpose. The idea is to force you to think about what you’re doing on what day and why. The makers suggest that if you don’t have the energy to write down what you’re doing, then you probably shouldn’t be doing it or perhaps you’re in denial about how much time you’re wasting.

There’s also plenty of free space to map out projects, business proposals, shopping lists, sketches or lines of poetry. This calendar is a lot less rigid because you design the pages one month or week at a time. You can start any time and end when you run out of pages versus being locked into a preprinted version.

And if you’re curious, the Bullet Journal site offers instructions on how to create this planner with any blank set of pages. You just need some patience to number the pages, and you'll need to learn (or make up your own) three or four useful symbols for recordkeeping. So if you’re not keen on investing in a planner, you’ve probably got a promotional notebook lying around that you can experiment with.