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Can a Paper To Do List

This is Week 1 of a Year of Living Productively

When I told a friend whom I met on a productivity forum that I was going to be using a paper to-do list this week, she laughed and said, “Techno Girl is going paper, huh?”

Yeah, I’m out of my element. I haven’t consistently used a paper to-do list in many years. Those of you who’ve always used paper may be frustrated with me. First, I’ve discovered benefits of paper that are no-brainers for you. But second, I’ve also discovered some frustrations with paper that you will think aren’t an issue at all.

How a Paper To-Do List Saved My Sanity This Week

A sense of completion. The biggest unexpected benefit for me was feeling like I actually accomplished something. I do think I did more than normal, but even if I hadn’t, I felt like I did. Most digital to-do lists dismiss completed tasks from view, leaving me with the feeling that I haven’t accomplished anything. In fact, I assumed that I hadn’t gotten much done this week until I noticed that most of my tasks are crossed off. There’s just something about crossing off a task with a pen, too.

Reduced overwhelm. Because I only planned to use paper for the work week, I didn’t list everything that I could potentially do in twenty lifetimes–which is what I tend to do on a digital list. Several times when I felt stressed, I reviewed my list and thought, “That’s all?” A limited number of potential tasks is a very good thing for someone like me.

I left it behind. One of the things I assumed was a drawback of paper was actually a benefit to me this week. Because I didn’t take my list everywhere with me like I do with digital lists on my phone, I felt like I didn’t have to do anything but enjoy the activity at hand. So I chatted with friends at the kids’ P.E. class rather than trying to figure out what tasks I could do at the same time.

How a Paper To-Do List Made Me Crazy This Week

Lack of integration with e-mail. I am accustomed to having my email and tasks work together. I didn’t like the feeling of wasting time writing down email-related tasks. I expect that paper users don’t do this, but because I clean out my inbox constantly, I didn’t know what else to do.

Pen failure. Not only did my pen run out of ink, but it tore my paper as I tried to get it to work. Then I couldn’t find a decent pen. That’s the kind of thing that drives me nutty.

Poor follow-up system. If I knew I wasn’t going to work on a task until after this week, I didn’t have a good place to put it. I chose to use a digital approach because I no longer use a paper planner nor do I keep written notes. For me, it seemed silly to have to move back and forth from paper to digital and all-paper is out of the question for this woman who needs digital alarms to remember any kind of appointment.

Did a Paper To-Do List Help Me Get More Done?

Yes! I was more motivated to cross off tasks that remained on my list and felt productive finishing my to-do’s for a change. While I am ready to return to a digital list this week, I realize that I have to find a way to limit my lists AND see everything that I’ve finished.


I still occasionally make paper lists and like them when I do. But my primary lists are digital because of the convenience of having my phone with me at all times.

The Productivity Approach I’ll Be Using for Week 2

The late Dr. Stephen Covey’s approach to productivity explained in First Things First can be distilled down to his focus on four kinds of work: urgent/important; not urgent/important; urgent/unimportant; and not urgent/unimportant. He emphasized the importance of spending time in Quadrant II: not urgent/important. Urgent and important tasks are attended to without much effort, but those activities which enable us to grow, build relationships, or fulfill our dreams are so often put on the back burner because they don’t demand our time. That is, unless you have my kids and husband. They demand my time! But I’m thankful for that. Of course, Covey urged us to spend less time doing unimportant things, urgent or not.

This week, I am going to see whether categorizing all of my tasks by these four quadrants will improve my productivity. I’ve spent a lot of time determining what’s important in my life, so I am ready to go. I am beta testing IQTell and will be using this very flexible system to categorize tasks this way. If you’d like to join me this week, you can set up tags or categories for almost any digital to-do list. However, there are paper forms for you pen lovers, too.

Hoping that checking in with your results next week at least ranks as Quadrant III! Please vote on whether paper helps you be more productive before you click off to get things done. Have a blessed week!

P.S. Read A Year of Living Productively if you don’t know what I’m doing. Click here to see how Covey’s Quadrant Approach worked for me.