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.

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

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  2. I still choose paper. My 2-in-1 planner and notebook is always with me, just like my phone. It’s faster and easier to open a notebook and start writing. Instead of unlocking the screen, looking for the needed app and opening it, while getting distracted on notifications and answering messages.
    I don’t need any sync or search options anyway.

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  4. I prefer when my to-do list is in my phone or in general, in an app. I travel quite a lot and it’s simply a bit problematic for me to make sure I don’t lose a paper when I change locations. An app is convenient and I can always count on it. I use kanbantool.com because it offers me more than just keeping my to-so lists. I can prioritize tasks, I can give them due dates, I can also track the time I spend on doing them. It’s all very useful and has a positive impact on my productivity.

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