How to create the perfect to-do list with just a pen and paper

A to-do list that has been given the love and attention it deserves will stand a far better chance of guiding you towards a successful conclusion each day.

In the digital age, most of us turn to apps to create and manage our to-do lists, but a growing number of people are taking a few steps into the past by turning instead to pen and paper.

In this post, we’re going to look at how anyone can create the perfect to-do list by dropping technology and doing it in the most traditional way possible.

lamy 2000 fountain pen and lamy 2000 mechanical pencil

Start with the right tools

Just as you’d want to find the best app with which to manage your to-do list, you need to source the best writing implement and paper if you decide to go analogue.

Good news: there’s a wealth of choice out there for both, and you don’t have to spend a fortune.

Start by finding a pen that’s comfortable in your hand and which glides effortlessly across the page and a notepad that’s A5 in size and which features paper whose tactility matches that of your pen.

Create your brain dump master list

There’s an awful lot of stuff in your head, which is why it’s important to open that metaphorical tap and let it all pour out.

By creating a master list in your notepad, you’ll have somewhere to unleash all those dormant tasks you want to complete, but which you’re in danger of forgetting all about.

Keep your brain dump master list topped up regularly, and only move items from it into your daily to-do lists when you know the time is right.

Create your daily to-do lists

There are plenty of ways you can do this, but the tried-and-tested method of simply reserving a page for each day of the week and making note of the tasks that fall on each one usually works best.

You can arrange each page in any way you want to, but always keep in mind the priority of each task and build some structure into the way you highlight the tasks that require urgent attention.

Note down expected durations and deadlines

The deadline for a task may well be the day on which you’ve placed it in your to-do list, but that isn’t always the case.

This is why it’s important to make a note of each task’s exact deadline (if it extends beyond the day in question) and how long you expect it to take.

With that information to hand, you can more easily plan your day in the morning and, if it comes to it, make allowances for tasks that don’t strictly have to be completed before sunset.

Highlight unfinished tasks

The great thing about using pen and paper to manage your to-do list is that you can design it in any way you see fit.

A big part of that design is to ensure any unfinished tasks (or those you haven’t even started yet) are clearly highlighted.

You can use highlight pens to do this, or simply draw rings around them – just do whatever it takes to ensure these unfinished tasks don’t get lost in the mix.

And finally: carry it everywhere

The other benefit of app-based to-do list management is that it follows you everywhere on your smartphone – but the same can be said for the analogue variety.

If you’ve gone to the trouble of creating an amazing paper-based to-do list, make sure you don’t undo that good work by forgetting it. Take it with you – everywhere – and you’ll grow to deeply love your notebook to-do list.