We all have some cool reminders applications in our phones, that have all the features to remind as at a specific time a task we have to do.

Besides this, as I read in a review/survey, people tend to use paper notes to remind them of something they have to do. A lot of them stick their note in a place that they will sure go there soon, see the note and remember it.

A big group of people tell their family/friends to remind them at the time wanted.

Why people avoid using their phones for this and all of this cool features? I dont think it is because of the battery but like they trust more other people than theirselves.

  • 2
    I'm sure many people use their phone for reminders and calendars. Could you provide a link to the review you are mentioning?
    – laurent
    Oct 22, 2011 at 12:07

8 Answers 8


I'm currently working on a project for an interactive design class where I'll be redesigning a calendar. As part of that, I've been informally interviewing almost everyone I encounter about whether they use paper vs. phone / laptop / etc. and their likes and dislikes.

A surprising number of people who are otherwise very technically inclined have said that they continue to use paper because they hate the UI on most calendaring applications (software, web apps, mobile, etc.)

Specifically, their grievances have included:

  • Lack of flexibility in the timeframe that gets displayed

    On many applications, your options are by day, by week, or by month. Suppose you want to see two days side by side. Or 5 weeks. Or you only ever care about 3 days out of the week. Maybe you work nights and a calendar that starts at 9am isn't very relevant for you.

  • Applications don't remember preferences

    So you set the calendar application to whatever you'd prefer... and the next time you open it, it returns to its default assumptions about what you want.

  • Lack of context

    Others have covered this, but I can confirm that it's been a popular user gripe. You don't need to be reminded to pick up condoms when you're on a date with someone else. You don't need a reminder to go to the grocery when you're in a meeting and not near a grocery.

  • Ugly

    Even the most popular tools tend to be relatively ugly when compared to other software and web applications.

  • Hard to quickly see at a glance the information that's most important to you

    ... vs. being trapped in a view that shows what they assume is important.

  • Hard to quickly enter information

    Being forced to choose options from dropdowns and buttons. Most tools aren't smart enough to allow the user to input "sat" or "saturd" or "next monday" or "2" and it guesses whether you meant "2pm" or "2am", etc.

  • Lack of trust

    Even popular tools seem to fail pretty often, and after one experience with a tool not notifying them of something that was important, some users don't want to give it another chance. Some of that could be due to user error / them not understanding the way to enter information, but it's quite upsetting to them.

ACM is often a good resource to search for more detailed research studies about topics like this...


If I write myself a note and put it somewhere, it acts as a constant low level reminder. I can walk past it numerous times and I can ignore it or act upon it. If I don't wish to act on it the next time I see it, it's presence is not enough to annoy me.

If I set a reminder on my mobile, I usually have to pick a specific time. If it's an appointment or something I have to do at that time, then that's fine, but if it's just a reminder to (for example) post a letter, I don't want to have to pick a particular time to do it, I want to do it when I'm ready. If I have to keep deferring (snoozing) a reminder, it quickly gets annoying because it's at too high a level for the type of reminder I want.

So what mobiles (etc) are not good at, is being able to set a background level for the reminder which is appropriate for the type of thing I want to be reminded of.

Back to my handwritten note - I can place it more or less prominently - I can use large or small text according to the urgency - I can position it according to it's needs (on the door to remind me when I leave the house, or in my car if I need to get fuel before I drive somewhere far)

so - I have a massive range of flexibility - lots of different ways of making the note more relevant to certain situations

Because I am used to this flexibility, I feel my mobile is unable to provide the same level of flexibility, other than to remind me to do something at a particular time - assuming I have it with me and the battery is charged and the phone is on...

Now, if I could press a button on my phone that makes it beep/vibrate next time (or every time until canceled) I come within, say, 2 metres of my current location (or one of a set of previously defined locations), then apps along that sort of functionality might start to get seriously useful!


My guess is that there are many reasons:

  • people are traditional.
  • we're still analog creatures.
  • paper has a friendly UI, is high resolution, easy to manipulate.
  • paper is conspicuous.

For me, personally, for little to-dos, it's just quicker for me to write it down on paper than it is to turn on my phone, open an app, go to the proper place, open the mini screen keyboard, type with my fingers, etc.

  • In your opinion how does a web page can offer most of the paper world with the features of a nicely done application? What is that thing that will motivate people use a webpage for their reminders rather than a phone?
    – EnexoOnoma
    Sep 28, 2011 at 1:01
  • 1
    One thing might be that the web page isn't "always on" and "always visible where I put it"... having to turn on displays to check that a note isn't exactly making it easier - even less so if that's not even enough but you have to open a browser too... Sep 30, 2011 at 10:30

I think that it's a matter of logical connections. People need to be reminded of things while they're in a certain headspace. When they're on their work computer, it's good to get reminders stating that they have a meeting in two hours. When someone is about to look into their fridge, it's good to see the post-it on their fridge saying that they need to buy eggs. They are in that headspace.

Because our phones are always on us, we tend to ignore a lot of its notifications simply because we have more relevant things on our minds at that instant in time. Logically separating our notifications is as useful to the way human psychology works as logically separating different groups of functions on a user interface is.

  • You say that people tend to ignore their phone notifications. What are some notifications that have a higher noticing rate? A SMS reminder maybe? A call ?
    – EnexoOnoma
    Sep 28, 2011 at 1:05
  • Yeah, I would agree with that. An SMS or a phone call is definitely more likely to get a response from me than a notification reminding me that I need to get my car serviced this week. One phone notification that always gets my attention is a timer expiry. Setting timers (ex: for laundry or cooking times) is one thing phones do very well that can't be duplicated using traditional means.
    – nfw
    Sep 28, 2011 at 16:39
  • 1
    My stove has a large friendly display with two clearly lit numerical digits and two nicely physical buttons (+ and -). Setting it initiates a minute timer that beeps when complete. I use it mostly for laundry because it will beep so I hear it in my entire flat, and I can always glance towards the kitchen to catch the current countdown from far away, something the phone won't provide unless I dock it in a very specific way in a specific location. I need a docked tablet on a wall to replace it that won't blank the screen unless I want it to and have NO lock screen. Sep 30, 2011 at 10:35
  • Right! I have one too and use it when I'm around the house. But your stove is not very portable, so you can't rely on it anywhere else. Even if I'm in the next room and not in my kitchen I'll use my phone as a timer instead of my stove or microwave. No sense in bringing a little timer around with you when you go out; you've already got your phone!
    – nfw
    Sep 30, 2011 at 15:50

For most people, it's quicker to use pen and paper to write a short list and to stick it somewhere 'unmissable', than it is to use their phone and keypad/swipe etc.

It isn't yet second nature for us to fire up our phones to set reminders, but I dare say that in about 10 years from now it will be.

  • 1
    What are the reasons that support your second opinion?
    – EnexoOnoma
    Sep 28, 2011 at 1:08
  • 2
    People who set reminders are typically adults who grew up using pen and paper for short-message communication and referencing. So when it comes to setting reminders, it's second nature to 'fallback' to pen/paper. Now, however, we have children who use computers/smartphones for the majority of their communications and are becoming far more efficient using computers/smartphones than the adults of today. So, when these children grow up and begin setting reminders, it's going to be easier for them to use their mobile devices/computers as it's become ingrained as part of their development.
    – rlsaj
    Sep 28, 2011 at 1:28
  1. paper doesn't run out of battery.
  2. it's faster (even touchscreen + stylus can't beat a post-it)
  3. you can leave a note on your desk without having to worry about thiefs
  4. when you are done with it you just throw it away (vs open app + find reminder to strike)
  5. people usually consider reality safer (over dematerialized data)
  6. easier to hand over
  7. objects tend to be associated with their original purpose (phones ain't made for that)
  8. you don't need acid to get rid of inconvenient traces

Being reminded at a specific time (e.g. by your phone) is just one way of using reminders. Another way is being reminded by context, as you mention. e.g. a reminder on the fridge will surely be encountered next time you eat.

Also, low tech has certain undeniable advantages. Not many phones can offer the same quick experience as a sticky-note + pen can offer. You usually have to reach for the phone, unlock it, find the app, type some stuff, add a due date, etc. Whereas reaching for a pencil and scribbling something on a piece of paper often takes much less time.

  • What are some lines that a web application should follow to decrease the actions for creating a note/reminder? Are there any or it is a lost game?
    – EnexoOnoma
    Sep 28, 2011 at 1:10
  1. Despite the fact that there is an explosion of reminder apps out there, the majority still involve a learning curve that is too high. I don't mean they're complicated, but rather that they have a learning curve at all. Paper and pen has zero learning curve. An app, at this point, considering how comfortable people are getting with their phones, could have a close-to-zero learning curve, but most still have some "help" or "tutorial" aspect going on. The problem with this is that when you set a reminder, you don't want that extra friction of doubt, that "how do I use this thing again?" making you lose what you were trying to remember in the first place. So reminder and task apps are more fragile in this sense.

  2. Interface is another layer of friction-lots of people still find typing on their phones a microchore in itself, and again, the moment you're trying to balance a thought in your head like an overflowing bowl is not the time you want to be slow or hesitating.

Real world example of how to overcome the above: Nag for iPhone, though not likely to win design awards, ends up being the reminder app I've seen technophobes stick with: it's got pretty much the lowest learning curve possible combined with an interface that requires next to no precision pecking.

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