A question I get asked often about time management tools is, “Which is better a paper-based or electronic to-do list? “

The short answer is… it depends.

It depends on the person, the situation, and the intended uses. Let’s look at both options and the benefits of each.

Your Phone is Always with You

In recent years, our phones have becomes integral parts of our lives. We carry them everywhere. They are always on our person. We sleep with them. And if we forget them, we turn around and go home to retrieve them.

So, from the perspective that you must have your to-do list with you for it to be effective… this is a big plus. I doubt you are ever more than a few feet from your phone.

Whether you are iPhone or Android based, there are dozens of to-do apps to help you keep track of your tasks. These apps provide many powerful features such as sorting, prioritizing, and even syncing your list across multiple devices.

However, some the downsides of an app-based lists should be noted. Many of them are too complex. They ask you to fill out 57 fields and a location just to enter a to-do. (That is why I often recommend the simplest of to-do apps for those just getting started.)

As well, when your phone is off, your list is out-of-sight and out-of-mind. Checking your list regularly is a good productivity habit, but it can lead to other phone-based distractions.

The Power of a Paper To-do List

So, how about a paper list?

There are many reasons that paper-based day planners and to-do lists have been around forever. They are easy. They are straightforward. And they just work.

Often, the simplest solution is the best.

Everyone knows how to use a paper-based to-do list. You don’t have to “learn how to use it” like you might with a to-do app.

With a paper list, it is quick and simple to add a new to-do. You can always “see” your list, you don’ have to turn on your phone or open an app.

Of course, you can’t sync a paper-based list. Or search it. Or easily re-order it. What you see is what you get and that’s it.

Choose Your To-do Solution

Paper or phone? The choice is yours.

I recommend you go with the solution with which you are most comfortable. (Always, “Choose Tools You’ll Use.”)

Weigh the features or each, and think about which one you will actually use in your day-to-day activities.

A to-do app may looks like a slick time management solution with lots of “bells and whistles.” However, it won’t do you any good if you don’t understand how to use its features.

A paper list is great, but you may spend much time re-writing it. Or you might leave it behind when you are out and about.

Which do you choose? Share your experiences in the comments below.

151 thoughts on “Should Your To-do List Be on Paper or in Your Phone?

  1. I use both. The Todoist app to capture everything across all areas of life, and a daily and weekly to do list on paper.

    1. If you get a chance, try Microsoft ToDo. It was formely known as Wunderlist. I’d be interested in what your thoughts are about it. I used to use Todoist I felt that Microsoft ToDo had a better layout and options.

  2. I use both forms. I use the ToDoist app, but every morning I print out my tasks for the day. As I get phone calls or when people stop by, I make notes on the paper. At the end of the day, I type any important notes into Evernote and scan the paper into Evernote. It works well for me.

  3. I’ve heard it again and again, a “Daytimer” is old school. But it works for me and has for 25 years. Paper and a pen and I write my to-do list in my daytimer and that’s it. I tried phone apps and phone alarms and it didn’t work for me. And every January 1st I go through my daytimer and re-read every page, the good, the bad, the funny. It’s a tradition I’ve long enjoyed and you can’t do that with an app.

  4. I use a paper list. I like being able to add notes and even images that might be helpful. I also like that I can be working with it at any time, regardless of whether I have good wifi. Lastly, I like to give my eyes a break from the screen. Works for me.

  5. I use both. When I’m out & about, I use Google Keep. I like the time- or location-based notifications.
    At home, plain old pencil & paper is great, that way the family can see what’s on tap for the day.

  6. Thanks for your insight. I made my own planner as a way to cover to-do’s and appointments, as well as a sort of dashboard with many links to areas I frequently need to be in touch with. It is built in Evernote. Check it out. https://stevedurgin.site

  7. “A paper list is great, but you may spend much time re-writing it. Or you might leave it behind when you are out and about.”

    My written list is in Moleskine A6-size book – slips into my pocket next to my phone (or, if you’re a lady, I would think it would fit in your purse) and unlikely to be left behind.

    As regards rewriting – well, that is a good incentive to Do The Thing (otherwise I will have to keep rewriting it!).

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  11. My written list is in Moleskine A6-size book – slips into my pocket next to my phone (or, if you’re a lady, I would think it would fit in your purse) and unlikely to be left behind.

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  21. Thanks for the article, it made me wonder which method I use most. The truth is I use both, but in certain cases, a to-do list on a paper works a lot better for me (especially when I forget to charge my phone).

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