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.

Yang can be reached for an interview at 312-834-5506 and [email protected].

Read more about Yang’s research.

About Cal State Fullerton: The largest university in the CSU and the only campus in Orange County, Cal State Fullerton offers more than 100 degree programs and Division 1 athletics. Recognized as a national model for supporting student success, CSUF excels with innovative, high-impact educational practices, including faculty-student collaborative research, study abroad and competitive internships. CSUF is a top public university known for its success in supporting first-generation and underrepresented students, and preparing all students to become leaders in the global marketplace. Our vibrant and diverse campus is a primary driver of workforce and economic development in the region. Visit

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Photo Caption:
Zhen (Jay) Yang, assistant professor of marketing