Last week I wrote about how to CLEAR your workload so you can stay focused and accomplish your work. In that blog, I referred to using a digital task manager. Since then, I’ve had a bunch of people ask me if they can apply my CLEAR formula to their paper-based task list. The answer is, definitely.

While I’m all about using technology to work smarter, I acknowledge that sometimes you have to use the system that works for you. And for many, that means a paper task list. So, here are five simple ways to start and maintain your paper-based task list.

Generally, you apply the same structure to paper as you would to digital: Categorize, Label, Establish, Attack and Review. But there are some nuances to the paper way of actively managing your task list. Here’s how …

Here’s what you’ll need to get started:

  • two notebooks (different colours)
  • sticky notes
  • two pens (black and red)

Before you start to CLEAR your workload, you first have to do a BrainDump. This is an exercise where, using Notebook 1, you write down everything in your head: all the calls you have to make, appointments to schedule and things you need to get done. Take 15 minutes in a quiet room, with no distractions. At the end, you’ll have a long, disorganized list. Not to worry, you’re now ready to CLEAR your workload.

How to CLEAR your workload the paper way

1. Categorize

Start by prioritizing your BrainDump list: 1 = Overdue/Today and 2 = Later. Write these numbers beside each item, as they apply.

2. Label

It’s often helpful to label your tasks. This is definitely easier to do in a digital task manager, but it can work for paper too. Everyone has their own system. I used to use letters and symbols beside each of my tasks:

  • P (project task)
  • C (call)
  • E (errand)
  • ✳ (important)

One of my clients uses different colour highlighters to identify those tasks she needs to do, and those she can delegate to her administrative assistant.

3. Establish

Now you’re ready to set a timeframe for each task. Estimate how long each task will take and write it beside each item (e.g. 15m, 30m, 1h). By setting time limits for each task, you’ll be better able to schedule them into your day.

4. Attack

It’s time for Notebook 2. This will hold your daily task list. To start, put today’s date at the top of the page and list all your number 1 items from your BrainDump, including the labels and the timeframes. As you complete each task, cross it off with your red pen (this feels really good).

If you have random thoughts or tasks that happen at a meeting or on the fly, add them to the appropriate list (Today or Later), or write them on a sticky note, which you’ll transcribe later. Now schedule a time in your calendar to complete your Today tasks, and get to work.

 5. Review

At the end of the day, transfer all those items you didn’t get done today (and there will be some) to the next page. Put tomorrow’s date at the top. You’ll also want to look at your Later list to see if you need to move anything over. Lastly, transcribe your sticky notes and put them into the recycle bin. Repeat this every day.

That’s it.

Have fun with your new system. You may have to refine it based on your individual working style, but you have the core of the CLEAR system to get your started.

Do you use a paper-based system to track your tasks? Does it work for your? What are some of your issues? Join the conversation and leave your feedback in the comments box below.