How to Manage Your Task Lists on Paper

Imagine, using paper to organize and manage your to-do lists! Yes, it's possible - and may actually work even better than any electronic system. Get-It-Done Guy explains how to use a simple notebook to easily keep track of your lists.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #290

When helping my clients change careers, start companies, or advance in their jobs, I uncover the actions they need to take in order to really live their life’s full potential. They then eagerly jot those actions down on a nearby piece of paper … and never do them because they don’t remember which paper they jotted them down on. So one thing we often end up doing is getting them settled on an effective way to capture and manage their to-do's.;

As you know from my episode using one master system to organize your life, I’m in favor of using a single master task list. Otherwise, you end up with a gazillion sticky notes, torn napkins covered with scribbles, and even notes written in ball point pen on your forearm. (I’m kidding. You’re a grown up. Don’t do that.) You end up missing important tasks or working on the wrong ones. Keeping your tasks together lets you view them and choose your next action in the context of everything you need to do.

Paper Rocks!

I prefer paper for my task lists. Electronic ones don’t work for me. They get longer than a screen and I never scroll down. Psychologically, I know the list is safely in the Cloud, being watched over by the benevolent caring eyes of the National Security Agency. So I put it out of my brain forever - which is exactly the opposite of what a task list is for.

A paper list lets you scan the items more quickly. And when you fill up your current page or notebook, you have to copy tasks to a new list. Copying forces you to review every item and discard whatever isn’t worth the effort to copy.

Keep Home and Work Separate (Hopefully)

Paper lists are harder to manage, though. My client yesterday noticed the current task lists includes “buy new popover baking tins” (Popovers! Yum! I just love popovers!) as well as “insert logo into client presentation.” This is not useful. While scanning the list at work, the very mention of popovers fill my client’s mind with images of hot, steaming, buttery goodness that … that … er, what was I saying? Ah yes, buttery goodness that no branding project can compete with.

A paper list lets you scan items more quickly.

Home and work to-do lists don’t belong together. But they don’t belong in two separate paper notebooks. That’s awkward, and doubles the chances of losing one, having a panic attack and ending up in the hospital.

My client’s solution turned out to be keeping both lists in the same notebook. But not by intermingling them! We wrote work tasks on the right-hand pages, starting at the front of the book. Then we flipped the notebook end-to-end, and wrote the home list on the right hand pages from the last page going forward.

Voila! Two completely separate lists living in one notebook. Just like America’s political parties. My client can see just home or just work tasks by choosing which side of the notebook to open.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.