It’s kind of sad that there are so many great to-do list apps and tools out there, yet the traditional way of pen and paper still remains king in the 21st century.
And I’m not even trying to write this post in a provocative, “yeah take that” -kind of way. I really do feel that paper is better for to-do lists, and I’m going to prove it to you.
Plus, I’m going to give you the exact method that’s been ultra effective for me so far.
The Productivity Tools of Today
I’ve tested a lot of productivity / to-do list tools over the years, and probably all of the main stream ones. Asana, Trello, Remember The Milk (RTM), Any.do, Todoist, Wunderlist, Producteev, Google Tasks, I’ve tried them all at some point. And I don’t mean just launching them once, playing around with the basic features, saying “meh” and going on with my life. I worked with each of them for at least a week (actually, that’s 3+ years with RTM, and 1+ year with Any.do).
For me, RTM was king, but then I watched a video by Neville from AppSumo about going back to the paper route. What he said seemed sensible, so I decided to give it a go because, heck, why not. After doing some quick tweaks to Neville’s original approach, I immediately knew that this was going to be THE way for me to handle to-do lists from that point forward.
Why Paper is Better Than Software
Don’t get me wrong, all of the productivity tools I mentioned are superb pieces of software, and they are great for many purposes. They’re just not great for everyone. That’s especially valid if you have your own way of working, your own way of describing tasks, your own way of keeping up with your things, and so on. Paper is extremely adaptive. And no matter what your style is, it will be able to handle it.
But there’s more to paper’s superiority:
1. It frees your screen. As someone working online (be it freelancing or any other kind of work), you are likely to have more than a handful of tools in your arsenal. How about Bidsketch (for creating and sending client proposals)? Basecamp (for effective project management)? FreshBooks (for accounting)? Oh yes, and let’s not forget Dropbox, and Skype, and Excel, and Word. Umm … what else is there? Anyway, you get the point. The thing is that no matter what additional to-do software you would use, it’s always going to occupy some real estate on your (already crowded) screen. This will cause the list to lose a lot of its visibility.
2. Scratching things off is cool! There’s just something about scratching things off your list that’s incredibly satisfying. I mean, you can almost feel the thing you’ve just accomplished when you’re holding a pen, just about to scratch it off the list.
3. Paper gives you a visible archive. With a software tool, once you’re done with a given task, you just click the “done” button or whatever, and it goes away forever. You don’t see it anymore. So, for example, even if you’ve finished 10 tasks so far, with 5 more to go, you only see those 5. With paper, you see all 15 – 10 of which scratched off. This is a huge motivator to keep going.
Convinced? Okay, onwards to the how-to!
The Setup You Need
There’s no other way to say this, you’ll only need:
- some paper
- a pen (plus another pen – a green color one if you’re fancy),
- a binder to archive your lists (we won’t be throwing them away).
The Way It Works
Each list represents a single day. (See the sample page at the beginning of this post)
Taking it from the top:
- Top left corner – the day of the week the list is for.
- Top right corner – the day of the month.
- All tasks have names / headlines.
- You can describe each task in as much or as little detail as you wish. All that matters is for you to be able to identify the task right away.
- Right next to a given task there’s a value in parentheses representing the estimated time you’ll spend handling the task. This isn’t that important for the execution of the task itself, but it is important when preparing your list for the day. For instance, it will prevent you from setting, say, 15 tasks that all total to 12 hours of work.
On the far right side of the list, there’s some place to put various priority values for your tasks. The most important task gets a “1.”
Working with the list is more than simple. Once you’re done handling a task, you just scratch it off the list. Preferably with a green pen (to make yourself feel extra special).
When you’re done with the day, you take your list and put it in the binder.
All those completed lists then become a great archive of your work, plus they can do wonders for your motivation if you’re having a bad day. If that happens, all you need to do is take a look at your binder and realize how much stuff you’re actually accomplishing every single day.
Example (my personal archive so far):
That’s basically it. Quite simple once you get going.
Which brings me nicely to your homework. I know that you might be feeling a bit hesitant to give this method a shot. I mean, isn’t technology supposed to be the solution to everything? Going back to paper just seems weird, right?
I know it does, so my advice is this: Don’t go head first into this. Just suspend your disbelief and try using paper to-do lists for a week. That’s all. See how it fits in your world.
So how’s it going to be, are you in?
Question: Would you consider switching to a paper to do list? Why or why not? You can leave a comment by clicking here.