The Value of Using a Physical Notebook for Task Management

Writing Things Down has More Weight: Physical Checklists Increase Productivity

Various studies have shown benefits in taking notes with pen and paper. We live in a digital age, but old fashioned ways have their merit. Does this apply to task management? I don’t know for sure. Personally, I use a combo of digital efficiency tools alongside physical notebooks, to get shit done. There are studies on taking notes by hand improves memory. However, I couldn’t find any studies on how using notebooks affects productivity. Nor could I find studies on using them together with services like Trello or Todoist. That said, it works for me and might work for you. Give it a try and see for yourself.

“Apparently there is something about typing that leads to mindless processing. And there is something about ink and paper that prompts students to go beyond merely hearing and recording new information…” Association for Psychological Science

The Advantages of Digital Task Management Tools

I won't immediately dive into the benefits of writing in physical notebooks. We have to also consider software designed for task management. Trello is STB’s Bible of efficiency and transparency. We assign ourselves tasks so that everyone else can see what we’re working on. When necessary, we assign each other tasks that are essential to our personal efforts. Another great aspect of Trello is being able to ask team members for help on tasks.

Todoist is my personal productivity tool. I prefer its PC version over web or mobile app. You can create categories of tasks, allowing more on the fly flexibility than Trello. My essential categories right now are: STB, Health, Personal and Memes. Sometimes when I get into the zone, I forget to eat. Or I'll eat much later than I should. That's where my Health tasks come in. Making memes is my relaxation, so I set aside time daily for it after my STB work is over.

Why Using a Physical Notebook for Task Management Works for Me

Learning and memory are amplified when writing things down, compared to typing. It’s a psychological benefit of writing in a notebook for task management. It doesn’t matter what kind of notebook you use.

Many blogs do in-depth comparisons of notebooks (usually Moleskine vs x), but it doesn’t matter what you use. There’s no need to splurge on Moleskine; think and work lean. Don’t listen to the pretentious blogs reviewing notebooks and pens. You'll grow your own preferences.

Personally, I prefer hardcover notebooks for their durability. I also love a classic RSVP or above average price point roller ball pen. Not because I like nice pens or anything like that. I get upset if I lose my pen. It becomes an important part of task management to me. Placebo effect? Probably, but it works for me.

My Routine of Writing Checklists in a Physical Notebook

  1. Guilt: What was on today’s checklist that I was unable to complete today? Since it’s not done, it’s going on tomorrow’s checklist. Physically writing out that you didn’t get something done feels terrible. It’s motivational. It should disgust you the way it does me. I feel much worse writing out a task a 2nd or 3rd time. Moving a Trello card to the next day doesn’t hold the same weight on your brain.

  2. Before Sleep: I take time to think about what needs to be done tomorrow. These are the tasks that will throw your business life into chaos if you don’t do them. I’ll throw those tasks to the top of my checklist.

  3. Brainstorming: What can I do tomorrow that will have the highest impact on STB?

  4. Bonus Brainstorming: What else can I get done alongside the above tasks? Don’t over-work yourself Be realistic and self-aware of your capabilities.

The Sense of Accomplishment from Writing Things Down

Books are heavy. I like to travel. Over the years, I’ve thrown out plenty of my books used for nothing but meeting notes and task management. Using the same pen for a notebook and actually running out of ink is satisfying. It’s rare for me. I usually lose my pens. Getting to the last page of a notebook is satisfying as fuck. You can flip back and look at exactly how much you’ve accomplished.


Here’s my current stack that I’m extremely proud of:

Paper doesn’t have notifications

Pretty much every blogging and writing platform now has a distraction-free mode. Menus are removed and you’re forced to focus on the task at hand. Notebooks don’t have a distraction-free mode because they are distraction-free. Looking at your task list in a notebook beside your laptop reduces multitasking. Multitasking is bullshit. The less distractions in your work environment, the better. Let’s start with just a notebook.

The Takeaway: To-do lists are an effective motivational tool. They keep you in check with your short and long term goals. Writing them out tasks a physical notebook creates an emotional attachment to them. It improves memory and productivity. Try it out for yourself.

Chris Tweten