Paper or Electronic?

Reader Debbie Fletcher asked, “Do you have a mechanism or system that you use (or can suggest) to support the approach that you are recommending? I’m looking for something paper based rather than electronic. … It is quite possible that I may have to move into the 21st century and do it all electronically somehow.”

Yes, there are several good systems to support the Effectiveness Habits and your lists. As Debbie notes, one of the first factors to consider is “paper or electronic?” Both can work very well. And both have some downsides. Here’s an overview of the pros and cons of each to help you decide.

Paper Electronic
  • Easy – no special training or equipment needed
  • Portable – a paper-based system is always on, usually easy to carry and use most anywhere, and is “wireless”
  • Natural – many people love the aesthetic of pen and paper; many attest to doing better thinking when they use paper and pen. Some say they are faster writing with pen on paper than typing.
  • Smoothly integrated with email, texting, etc – easy, in many electronic systems, to capture current and potential tasks from your emails, texts, and other electronic sources.
  • Easy to maintain – you can copy, manipulate, expand, and move information on electronic lists very easily; no need to rewrite. It is also easy to share tasks amongst team members.
  • One less thing to carry – if you already carry a smartphone, you needn’t carry much else to have your system with you.
  • Difficult to expand – fixed pages in notebooks and fixed areas for writing information make it hard to expand information
  • Lots of rewriting – unlike the cut/copy/paste/move/re-categorize features of an electronic system, manipulating information in a paper-based system implies rewriting.
  • Hard to search – a stuffed, tagged, and well-loved binder or stack in a paper system is pretty much impossible to search.
  • Requires hardware, software – though there are plenty of great, free apps, you still need to pick one and to get the hardware
  • Can get quite complex – first, there are hundreds of apps and sites to choose from; second, apps can have complex sets of features and user interfaces.
  • Can be less portable – some of the best apps for managing your lists work very well on your desktop and may not sync with your phone or tablet. Apps on your smartphone or tablet are harder to work with for your daily and weekly refreshes.

More about specific paper and electronic systems in upcoming posts.


To your continued success,


5 thoughts on “Paper or Electronic?

  1. I would also say that a pro of paper-based is the satisfaction I feel when physically crossing an item off on my list. Also, somehow a list on my screen is not nearly as “present” as a paper list on my desk! I fear I’m also a 20th century creature.

    1. Hello Diane!

      Ah, yes. That is important. So much so that many electronic apps will simulate that sense of crossing off items. They draw a line through completed tasks. And they give you the option to keep all your completed tasks “in view” for the rest of the day.


      1. I’ve been using Numbers/Excel to record. The apps thing seems intimitading, but I’m willing to give it a go anyhow if it will integrate everything and I don’t have to rewrite and potentially lose paper. What Apps would you recommend?

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