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Digital Calendars Are the Norm in 2023. But Do Paper Calendars Help Us Plan Better?

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By Daniel Coats ’15, ’18

If you don’t have a paper calendar on your wall or a daily planner at your desk, you’re far from alone. In 2023, we’re moving more and more to calendars on smartphones and computer desktops.

But while we might have 24/7 instant access to our appointments, meetings and dates that way, does it make us more or less efficient?

Jay Yang, assistant professor of marketing at Cal State Fullerton’s College of Business and Economics, delves into this topic in his new research study, “How using a paper versus mobile calendar influences everyday planning and plan fulfillment.”

The study, co-authored with Yanliu Huang of Drexel University and Vicki Morwitz of Columbia Business School, appeared in the January edition of the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

Your research finds that people are more successful at setting and implementing plans when using a paper calendar vs. digital calendars. What are some reasons for this?

The main reason is that using paper calendars instead of mobile calendars allows consumers to have a broader perspective and see the big picture of their scheduled activities.

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.

When individuals use mobile calendar apps, they typically have to “open” a day to enter new event details.

Thus, mobile calendar interfaces focus on individual days and time periods, making it difficult to view other activities happening nearby.

In contrast, paper calendars allow consumers to see their weekly or monthly schedules when adding new events. This helps users identify environmental contingencies and subsequently prioritize and organize their tasks more effectively. Accordingly, the plans are also more likely to be fulfilled.

In a workplace environment, would you recommend that organizations utilize physical calendars?

It depends on the situation or the type of plans.

If the planned activity is a single event, for example, a meeting appointment at a specific time, mobile calendars could be better than paper calendars, because mobile calendar users can set time notifications as reminders of upcoming events.

If the plan involves multiple activities, for example, preparing for a business presentation, then, based on our research, paper calendars will outperform mobile ones, since the design of paper calendars can provide a big picture view and help users better understand the overall arrangement of events.

Nowadays, given the convenience of mobile technologies, consumers might be more likely to make plans with mobile calendars.

Our research encourages mobile app developers should design calendar apps that help users see an overall picture of their scheduled events to improve plan quality and facilitate plan fulfillment.

What encouraged you to pursue this study?

Mobile technologies are transforming the way we do things, including plan making. However, physical calendars are still there. For example, I receive calendars from my bank every year as a gift.

Many of us still prefer paper calendars. The act of writing things down imparts a sense of formality and increases the likelihood of accomplishing tasks. This made us contemplate the benefits of using paper calendars.

This project is also a continuation of our previous research with Yanliu Huang, which was published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research.

In that research, we show that consumers who use a paper shopping list are less likely to purchase unplanned items than consumers who use a digital shopping list. So, we generalized this finding from the in-store shopping scenario to everyday planning.

Where do you see your research going in the future?

My current research focus on the impact of emerging technologies, such as mobile, AI and chatbots, on consumers, business and society at large.

I have several working projects on the voice technologies.

For example, in one project, we built an online food ordering website that allows consumers interact using voice, click or text.

We found that consumers who use voice commands to order food are more likely to comply and purchase recommended products than those using other types of modalities, such as click or text.

Read more articles on CSUF business faculty research.

Daniel Coats