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Summary:

You’d think the proliferation of webware might make paper to do lists obsolete. For some people, though, no electronic task list can replace the joys of paper and pen. In my almost six months writing for Web Worker Daily, I’ve come across many appealing web-based to […]

writing handYou’d think the proliferation of webware might make paper to do lists obsolete. For some people, though, no electronic task list can replace the joys of paper and pen. In my almost six months writing for Web Worker Daily, I’ve come across many appealing web-based to do list managers — Gubb and Remember the Milk are two especially nice options — but none that can overcome my commitment to paper to do lists.

To complement Five Reasons to Use a Paper To Do List, here are six more.

1. Gives you a reason to buy and try cool pens and notebooks. WWD reader Ryan loves his Namiki Vanishing Point retractable fountain pen, but I’m a gel gal myself. Zebra Sarasa gel retractables come in a multi-color tenpack of subdued and sophisticated colors, but for me, nothing beats the 0.7mm bold Pentel EnerGel in purple. Pilot G2 gel pens also come highly recommended; plus, they’re offered in a convenient mini size.

As for notebooks, WWD reader Tim recommends the Levenger Circa system while Danny De Wit likes Moleskines and letter-sized Mead Folios. I’ve been using 5″x8″ Cambridge Limited notebooks, also by Mead, and like their moderate size and decent quality at only $5 each.

2. You can doodle pictures or mind maps on your to do lists. C’mon, make your to do lists fun, because you’re probably going to be referring to them multiple times a day. Mind mapping guru Tony Buzan claims that creating organically-shaped and colorful diagrams engage your mind and help you learn and remember information better. Whether that’s true or not, there’s no doubting that for some people, creating a freeform task list with pen and paper makes the management of to dos more fun.

3. Paper and pen don’t set off the anti-electronics alarms of family and friends. Write your to do list on paper at the kitchen table and your spouse is unlikely to chastise you or tell your friend who calls that you’re doing crack (-berry, that is). If you’re putting to do items into your PDA at dinner time or worse, sitting in your office at your computer while the rest of the family hangs in the den, better watch out. You’re toast and not the kind made with bread.

If you’re on a device capable of surfing the web, people around you will think you’re checked out of what’s happening in meatspace. If you’re merely doodling on paper with your favorite pen, you seem relatively available for interaction. Given most of us web workers spend way too many hours online, it’s good to have something productive to do that doesn’t involve Internet access.

4. It’s so convenient to write stuff down. There’s no device to turn on, no application to launch, no account to log into. Just grab your pen and paper and go. Write wherever and whenever you want with no friction except the physical feel of the ink flowing onto the paper.

5. You can change your to do list “data model” at any time. You can use prioritization schemes like starring or circling items, add due dates at will, categorize however you like, and change the format again and again. You aren’t limited to just the fields a to do list app supports. You can rewrite at any time.

This is a drawback when looked at another way — because paper to do list items are much less queryable and sortable than electronic to do lists.

6. Forces you to limit your list and eliminate what’s unimportant. It’s really easy to add more and more electronic to do items; not so easy to do so with paper to do lists. When my lists start getting messy, I rewrite them, in the process eliminating or revising tasks that no longer fit my plans.

Of course, many people prefer electronic to do list managers to paper. How do you manage your to dos? Share in the comments.

  1. Paper lists = safer, too. This is probably TMI (although I doubt I am alone in this) but I do a lot of list making in the tub. Same with re-writing key copy for my site, outlines for presentations, and jotting down the next big idea. From that quiet flow in the tub, I shall someday conquer the world with my slightly soggy steno-pad and favourite blue pen.

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  2. I think the best part of paper to-do lists is that your list model is only limited by your imagination. Just yesterday, I was actually thinking of learning some programming to create the kind of todo list that I’d like, and then I read this. Huge “duh” moment for me.

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  3. @Anne: check out the “The “Not Insane” To-Do List” from American Digest!
    http://americandigest.org/mt-archives/005701.php

    I have integrated its spirit to my electronic system:
    http://pascalvenier.com/blog/?p=288

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  4. This post makes me remember and observe one thing.

    I use even Notepad and paper to write my posts. Whenever I want to write, I write.. so I always carry a piece of paper with me. What amazes me is I feel paper and the pen is the best ever tool and it’s the most productive as well.

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  5. This really resonates with me, as I’ve been a paper to do list man since managing my shoe sales commissions at 17. Item #2 reminded me immediately of the essential Montessori philosophy of incorporating tactile props in learning, e.g those numerical rods to physically teach a child about numbers and the magical binomial cube. Crafting and re-crafting my to do lists is a relaxer.

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  6. I gave up my PDA several years ago, and may never go back (though something iPhone-like may eventually sway me). My PAA is a 3×5 Circa notebook for my calendar, to-dos, key project notes, and some other lists (I write small).

    This is a drawback when looked at another way — because paper to do list items are much less queryable and sortable than electronic to do lists.

    A to-do list isn’t Gmail, when one accumulates 2.8GB of to-dos, there are bigger problems.

    Anne, great post as usual. I’ve nominated you for one of the top five Geeks of 2007.

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  7. Paper and pen are nice, especially when I am out. But what I use most is my white board – love it! I have a huge one sitting above my desk and everything I need to do (from home to office) is on that board. I take great pleasure in staring at it on Sunday evening, with eraser and marker in hand, to prepare for the coming week.

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  8. I love my moleskines. Yes, plural. I use them as note books for my various classes, idea farms ( where my various brain droppings go), and even as sketch books. I collect all the intellectual detrius that floats about in my life and with the aid of my Pilot Varsity founatin pens, and a good glue stick, I record it all. I have to say though, that most really important items (i.e. time critcal assignments, appointments, birthdays, anniversaries, etc.) are locked into my cell phone’s organizer. A friendly buzz on the hip and an urgent ring help out alot, but pictures, graphs, idea trees…found in my moleskine.
    Organizationally, though, my moleskines are my idea backbone. I love using the grid rulled pages, which can really help when you need to do a quick and dirty diagram, and don’t have a straight edge right near by.

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  9. Not only do I use pencil (or pen, I’m not rigid) and paper for my lists, I find I can be more creative, insightful, or ruthless when taking writing tool to paper when writing and editing.

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  10. First, please never use the term “meatspace” again. It’s so 1995. Plus, it’s kind of gross.

    I followed the cult of the Moleskine for many years, leaving after a concerned family member staged an intervention. Since then, I’ve discovered that the joy of paper actually multiplies once I got over the objects and started focusing on my writing. I have lovely penmanship, if you really need to know.

    I’m currently using a series (yes, I carry around four of them) of wide-ruled composition books. The Mead brand books have paper that is actually better than the Moleskine paper. Anyone telling you otherwise is trying to justify their 20x expenditure. I buy my notebooks for under a buck each (which is why I use the wide-ruled. College ruled would be better, but those cost more, because the company figures they can).

    They’re cheap enough that I can dedicate one notebook to each major area of responsibility in my life. And, unlike yellow pads, they stay together and are durable enough to withstand surprising abuse. Sometimes, it’s literal abuse, and they seem to just shrug it off. Try that with a Moleskine (no, don’t. Trust me: they fall apart after high-speed collisions with concrete walls).

    I still have some electronic components, but nothing I can’t print out and stick in a paper notebook. That’s how I do my calendar, my lists, my ideas, everything.

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