To-Do Lists – Paper vs. Electronic

Last time, I wrote some basic guidelines for creating effective to-do lists.  Today I’ll cover the burning question of whether it is better to keep your to-do list on paper or electronically.

Keep It Handy

The most important factor in determining how you are going to keep your to-do list is:  which method will guarantee that you will always have your to-do list handy?

You want a method that allows you to capture tasks as they occur to you.  Suppose you run into a colleague or client, and make a commitment to find out an answer and get back to him or her.  If you don’t have your to-do list handy so that you can record that commitment right away, there is the risk that it will be forgotten.  We are all too busy to remember commitments made on the fly.

Keep It Real

Have you ever created a to-do list that is so long, you feel exhausted and defeated just looking at it?

Electronic to-do lists have the disadvantage that they can go on forever.  There’s no obstacle to adding task after task after task.   Paper to-do lists tend to be a bit more realistic because they are likely to contain the most current tasks, not every task you ever thought of over the last 6 months.

Using either method, you can keep your to-do list realistic by limiting it to the tasks that are most likely to be done in the next week.   I call that the “Now” list.  All other tasks should be kept on a “Later” list.  That enables you to focus on the short-term tasks, while still keeping track of the stuff that you want to do beyond this week.  You can transfer tasks from “Later” to “Now” as they increase in priority.

Take It Easy

Whichever method you use, make sure it’s one that you can easily maintain.  The most sophisticated task management program in the world is not going to help you if you have difficulty using it.

If you decide to go the electronic route, make sure that you are comfortable using your program.

The Bottom Line

It’s completely a matter of preference whether to use a paper to-do list or an electronic version.  As long as you keep in mind the guidelines above — as well as the ones I wrote about last time — you should be in good shape.

You’re probably wondering what I use.  For the last 20 years, I have been a Franklin Planner user.  So I’m in the paper universe and likely to remain there.   My little book contains my prioritized task list for each day, my calendar, and notes that I jot down throughout the day.

What method do you use, and how is it working for you?


  1. JR on April 30, 2012 at 12:15 am

    I keep a small notebook with me to add items to my to-do list, but I also keep an electronic one in my Gmail because I can add items along with their related email. That means that when I get a message, I can add it to my Tasks and then label and archive the message (though I’m far from Inbox 0).

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