Why Make Paper To Do Lists? Because Writing Helps You Remember

I am neither a romantic or a technophobe. Studies have shown that when you write something down on paper, you are more likely to remember it. Until about 25 days ago, I was keeping my to do list on the computer. It seemed to make sense because I could share the same information to my iPhone, iPad, and laptop as well.

As a programmer, I have repeatedly approached the problem with web apps, desktop apps, you name it if it was appropriate, I tried it. I also downloaded multiple to do list apps for inspiration and to try to jump over the planning directly to success. But none of them satisfied me.

What made matters worse was that it’s way too easy to blow off an app. Even if the app runs automatically, it’s simple enough to dismiss it because “I’m too busy right now” and then never go back.

But there’s a bigger issue here as well and I’ve seen the research to back it up. When you write something with a pen on paper, it is actually easier to remember. Let me say that again. Writing with a pen on a piece of paper is easier to remember than typing on a computer or tapping on a phone or tablet.

Making To Do Lists on Paper

Every morning, when I sit down at my computer, I open the notebook next to my computer and write the date at the top of the page. Then I take a minute or two to make a list of the things I want to accomplish. Some things are always on my list, like taking my pills or checking eMail.

The list serves two purposes. It reminds me to do things and it also shows me the things I’ve done. When I complete a task, I ad a check next to the item. It may seem silly to list things I do every day. Shouldn’t I be able to remember them by now? Yes, normally I do remember. What listing those items does is show me that I did them.

Writing a To Do list on paper
Listing your tasks on paper, courtesy of Unsplash.

This whole practice started because of the coming together of two separate things. The first was the repeated question “Did I take my pills today?” and this article: “Why You Learn More Effectively by Writing Than by Typing” on Lifehacker.

Writing on Paper has Other Benefits

According to “Why Using Pen And Paper, Not Laptops, Boosts Memory: Writing Notes Helps Recall Concepts, Ability To Understand“, published at Medical Daily, describes an experiment where a group of students watch the same lecture. Each student was encouraged to use whatever method they normally use to take notes. Students were tested an hour after the lecture and again a week later.

“Even after a week of review, the students who took notes in longhand were found to do significantly better than the other students in the experiment, including the fleet typists — those who transcribed the lectures.”

Why Using Pen And Paper, Not Laptops, Boosts Memory: Writing Notes Helps Recall Concepts, Ability To Understand

We constantly hear that “handwriting is a thing of the past” but maybe it shouldn’t be. Studies have shown that students should take notes by hand rather than typing because it helps the learning process. The best of both worlds would be to write your notes by hand and then transcribe them into the computer when you’re done. Now you’ve got the portability of a computer file based on the learnability of handwritten notes.

Whatever you do, make the most of writing with a pen on paper.