No More Little Pieces of Paper

Image by Bartosz Kapka from Pixabay

Recently I was working with a client, and at the end of the session I suggested we record some “to dos”. She grabbed a scrap of paper to write down what I suggested…and I balked. Little pieces of paper are handy for scribbling a phone message, wrapping up a piece of gum, or tearing into smaller pieces of paper for confetti. They are NOT good for “to do” lists.

Why not? There are a couple of reasons:

  • First, we tend to lose them.  We write a list in the kitchen, then get in the car and realize we left it on the counter. Or we write a list and then can’t find it in the paper piled up on our desk. They are small, easy to misplace, and easy to accidentally throw away.
  • Second, they are inconsistent. One day we write on the back of an envelope, another day on a piece of scrap copy paper and another on a post-it note. The problem is, because our “to do” list is not an easily identifiable object, it is easy to misplace or forget. 
  • Third, scraps of paper are discrete and disconnected. Since our “to dos” are scattered on various slips of paper that we can’t find when we need them, we tend to keep starting new lists! The result is typically multiple incomplete lists scattered through our lives.

There is a better solution for tracking tasks.

1.    Designate a “to do” location. This can be a basic composition book, a leather-bound planner, a notebook, an app, or a task function on your computer.

2.    To work well, make sure your tool has the ability to assign tasks to a specific date. This is most likely already done for you if you are using a planner or an electronic medium. If you are using a more generic paper option, you can simply write the day and date at the top of the pages. I suggest clients write the pages out at least a month in the future, if not longer. Whenever a task arrives on your plate, open this tool, choose a day to which you will assign this task, and record it.

3.    At the beginning of each day, review today’s list. I find it helpful to add some structure the list. For instance, identify which tasks are most important, i.e., the ones you must complete today. You can tag these by priority or just put a star next to them. Not all tasks can be high priority. If everything is important, then nothing is important. You can further order your list by grouping tasks by type, such as calls, errands, computer tasks, etc.

4.    During the day, as you work through your tasks, note your progress in your “to do” tool. For example, a completed task gets a check or a filled in box. A task you have taken a step toward completing but now must wait on (e.g., you’ve left a voice mail), gets a different notation, such as a half filled-in box. Some tasks you might find you no longer need to do. These might get an “x” or other notation which indicates they have been removed from your list.

5.    At the end of the day, review your progress. Move any uncompleted tasks to another day’s list. You can mark these as “rescheduled.” At this point, every task should have some notation next to it letting you know where you stand. This can come in handy when you want to refer back and see when you may have worked on a task, left a message, submitted a document, etc. It also provides the opportunity to look ahead to the next day and remind yourself what you will need to tackle tomorrow.

The best tool is one you use and trust. Focusing on using one task tool, instead of a bunch of small pieces of paper, is not only helpful for managing the current day’s responsibilities, but is also ideal for helping you prepare for what is coming down the road. For example, periodically you will need to remember to perform a task days, weeks, or even months away. This system allows you to easily flip forward and assign them to the proper day.

As you use this tool, in conjunction with your calendar, you will find it easier to keep track of what you need to do, and when you need to do it.

* * *

What’s your system for keeping track of your “to do” list?

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16 thoughts on “No More Little Pieces of Paper”

  1. Pingback: Doing the Two-Step | The Seana Method

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  3. Seana, you are singing my song! So many of our clients leave little lists here, there, and everywhere. This is the very reason for the planner My List Simplified. It is undated so you can decide if the page is your list for a day, a few days, or a week. There are sections to record lists of calls to make, shopping, and more. There is also a Notes page for expanded information the person wants to track. Jonda Beattie and I sell this planner on our website ( and it is available on Amazon.
    Diane N Quintana recently posted…The 3 Best Reasons To Take A Mini VacationMy Profile

    1. We are definitely on the same page. I will recommend your planner to clients who prefer a paper solution. You and Jonda are full of terrific ideas!!!

  4. Guilty as charged! I have all these pieces of papers (sticky notes) around and every once in awhile I go through them. Sometimes, I can’t even remember what something means. I need to clean up my act lol I also have too many journals or notebooks around that I am also using. I need to work on this so thank you for the nudge.
    Kim recently posted…Welcome Spring!My Profile

  5. This is a topic near and dear to Diane Quintana and myself. She has already commented on our favorite solution. But no matter how you gather your to do list it does you no good if you don’t look at it. I look over my list on Sunday and plug into my calendar everything on it I plan to tackle for the week. I look at my calendar every morning and set alarms for items that have specific non-negotiable times. At the end of the day, I copy onto another day in the week anything that did not get accomplished. This way I don’t worry about missed tasks.
    Jonda Beattie recently posted…Spring Cleaning – Yeah or Nay?My Profile

    1. I do the same with copying what did not get completed. It gives me a feeling of confidence to know that I have everything captured in a place where I will see it and not lose track of it! I love your tool and will recommend it to clients!

  6. “The best tool is one you use and trust.” This is true. We often jump from tool to tool to find the ‘perfect’ system, hoping one will be the magic solution. But the best chance of a system working is to work it consistently. That trust piece is essential.

    I’ve experimented with a variety of tools over the years. My go-to app is “2Do.” It cues me daily, allows me to designate specific repeating tasks, and easily lets me schedule items. It has other features too, which I like, such as viewing my appointments or creating lists like “Books to Read.”

    1. I love the variety of tools out there, because they meet the needs of our diverse species. It’s worth sticking with one for a long enough time to see if it is really working or not. I agree that we tend to give up too quickly, thinking the problem is with the tool instead of with the way we are using the tool. I guess it seems easier to “buy a new toy” than to do the work of consistency.

  7. I have a client who uses the backs of envelopes. Sometimes the envelope isn’t headed for recycling when she uses it and so the items in the envelope get overlooked. I have encouraged many clients not to use scraps of paper. I have come to believe that the better solution, as you stated, is to have a place to collect those scraps of paper to deal with later. I think they like them because when the task is done they can throw them out and it gives them more satisfaction than deleting a note electronically or stroking out an item on a list.
    Julie Stobbe recently posted…Filing options to keep your papers organizedMy Profile

    1. I can agree that it is more satisfying to pitch a piece of paper, but we can find satisfaction many ways in life, right? If the system is working, by all means, go for it. However, if the system is failing, this is another alternative.

  8. You said the magic words, and you can’t trust random things disconnected from your system! Sexist terminology aside, I’ve been calling these loose pieces of paper (like “loose women” of the olden days) FLOOZIES to prompt people to avoid them. Every short-term task goes into my bulleted sticky note for the day. Any long-term item that’s part of a larger whole goes into my full task management system so it can go into my time-blocked schedule. And I keep a record of everything I’ve accomplished!
    Julie Bestry recently posted…Highlights from the 2023 Task Management & Time Blocking SummitMy Profile

    1. Ha! I love that term… Floozies! What a great way to communicate that maybe this system isn’t a great option. That many this option isn’t as strong, reliable, and secure as they might want.

      I love your bulleted sticky notes. Those are great because you can hang them up in plain sight. As I said, any system you trust and use is the best. I suppose you could use stone tablets, and as long as you used them faithfully, they would work LOL!

  9. These are very good points! I’ve taken to writing my “to-do” list items either in a leftover notebook from my school days (also embracing the “use it up” philosophy before buying more paper for my home) or in a Notes app on my phone.

    Little pieces of paper can be handy if you want to leave the note attached somewhere in your line of sight as a temporary measure to remember something. But this is a tactic only to be used for very special cases, or you end up having a monitor full of sticky notes that no longer have any special meaning.

    1. I stop seeing the notes that have been hanging there for a long time. I love sticky notes, and use them a lot. But they just aren’t great for keeping track of tasks. Good for you using up old notebooks!

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