Should Your To-Do List Be Paper or Digital?

We live in a world that is increasingly dominated by digital media and communication and unless you’re still at school, the chances are you don’t use a pen and paper much on a daily basis.

If you’re anything like me, you probably handwrite far less now than you did maybe five or ten years ago.

And actually, most adults don’t use a pen to write much at all these days.

In fact, I write so infrequently now that my hand cramps up after doing any more than filling in a form and signing my name.

In the modern world, handwritten communication seems so inefficient compared to the speed, versatility and convenience of mobile phones, email, SMS, video-conferencing, social networking, and other forms of digital media.

It certainly seems to dominate to the point where I don’t think it would be crazy to assume that there may come a time soon when handwriting is no longer taught in schools and could even become something of a lost art.

But what about when it comes to your To-Do list?

Do you handwrite that?

Should it be a pen and paper job or should we all be going digital with these too?

It’s a controversial topic and a big issue that keeps many awake at night.

Well, it’s not really.

But, you know – it’s definitely a First World problem up there with misplacing your AirPods and the horror of discovering your satsuma has too many pips.

And it’s an interesting one because you’ll find that many people, young and old, despite using digital tools for other forms of work and communication, revert to pen and paper when it comes to writing their To-Do list.

As a Generation X’er, I’m part of a group straddling both the digital and the analogue eras, so I’ve had the luxury (or misfortune) of ample exposure to both throughout my life so far.

Desktop computing was just starting to kick in when I first went to school and by the time I went to university in the 1990s, the majority of undergraduates were starting to knock out assignments on Microsoft Word for Windows at the university computer centre.

And that just brought back flashbacks of Microsoft’s annoying little office assistant, Clippy.

Clippy: (‘Taps’ on monitor) “It looks like you’re writing a letter . . .”
Everyone: “No, Clippy, I’m not. Just, f*ck off and let me write my essay!”

Anyway, I digress.

While some students were starting to have their own desktop computers, laptops didn’t really start becoming commonplace until a few years’ later.

These days, while almost all of my work is based around my laptop and phone, I still appreciate that there is still something quite powerful and possibly cathartic about putting pen to paper.

Some claim that writing by hand unleashes ideas and creativity that are not easily accessed in other ways and there may be something to that. So there are times when I will write a quick list on paper, but I always transfer it to a digital format, because it is just so much easier to manage that way.

I do still use pen and paper if I am mind-mapping a project, but I don’t do that very often – and again, I always end up transferring those ideas to a digital format anyway, because it’s so much easier to edit and update.

From what I can tell, whether you use analogue or digital comes down to:

~ What resources you have available to you
~ What you find works best for your circumstances
~ What requires the least effort
~ What you find is most convenient
~ Personal preference

For convenience, keeping a To-Do list on your phone makes sense, since most people have their phones with them all the time.

If the data is then backed up to the Cloud, you can access it through your laptop or PC later if required. The is also useful if you lose your phone, whereas if you misplace your notebook or pad, you’re going to have to produce your To-Do list again from memory.

Having to adopt the latest digital systems is not a prerequisite for being effective and organized with your time. If a pen and a notebook work best for you, then don’t change. It’s only worth changing to a digital system if the time investment required to learn and set up a new system provides a good return.

If it’s too much trouble and effort, then maybe digital is not for you, you frickin’ Luddite.

I’m just messing with ya. 🙂

Managing your time well and organizing your tasks efficiently is really not about using the latest technology.

It’s about using a system that meets your needs and helps you stay organized and productive.

When it comes to time management, what matters is what works for you.

Here’s a quick overview of the pros and cons.

PAPERGreat for quick idea-capturing.
More intuitive.
Dopamine hits from crossing out the done stuff.
No system to learn.
Enables us to single-task.
Easier on the eye than a screen.
Frequent re-writing required.
No backups – lose it and you’re screwed.
Need to carry a pen and notebook with you all the time.
No reminders.
DIGITALCan sync across devices.
Shareable with others.
Notifications and alarms.
Reviewing and analysis functions.
Easier to edit.
Can link to websites and other media.
Need to learn how to use and set up new systems.
Too much choice.
Restrictive framework.
Potential distractions built-in (internet, email, etc.)

Bullet journals

Bullet journalling, which has seen a rise in popularity over the last few years, tends to include a To-Do list as a core part of the content.

This is new to me, but I intend to explore and will report back with my assessment!


Examples include Evernote, Remember the Milk, TickTack, Teux Deux, Todoist, OneNote, Wunderlist.

There seem to be various apps that can be used for To-Do lists, but to this point, my main experience is with Remember The Milk and Evernote. I will be reviewing the others at a future date.

Check out this post: Remember The Milk: Review >>>

Digital note-taking devices

If you currently use a pen and paper because you prefer writing with a pen over typing, then you could always consider using a digital stylus with your tablet or phone.

Go Hybrid

If you cannot decide which way to go with your To-Do list, you can always combine the two. There are no rules here and as I said previously, it is about what works for you.

Evernote Premium now allows you to search captured handwritten or printed text, which is a useful function if you like to collect your thoughts on paper but appreciate the power of managing them digitally.

Time Hack Hero Takeaway

I think that the bottom line here is, if you currently have a system that works well for you, don’t mess with it!

Of course, there are pros and cons for both digital and analogue To-Do lists.

For me, while digital has some clear advantages over pen and paper, experience tells me that there are times when a pen and paper are still useful.

But if I were only permitted to choose one method, I would choose digital over pen and paper.

What are your preferences and experiences with writing and managing your To-Do list?

More reading

How To Write A To-Do List – Properly! >>>

[Featured image credit: Jessica Lewis]

2 thoughts on “Should Your To-Do List Be Paper or Digital?”

  1. Enjoyed finding your blog and like your writing style; mature, balanced, actually a lot more useful than much similar subject matter ‘out there’ … and with a timely touch of humour – I don’t laugh enough these days!

    Fellow X-er

    • Hi Phil,

      I really appreciate you taking the time to comment and I’m glad you enjoy the blog. The humour is purely self-indulgent, but it’s good to know others can have a chuckle at it too sometimes.


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