How to Organize Your Day with Just Two Pieces of Paper

to-do list

We all have so many things to do. Each day is filled with tasks at work and home, and we all want to fill each day with as many accomplishments as possible.

Sometimes though, things slip through the cracks. We have so much to do that our brain can’t remember it all. Desperate, we turn to calendars and apps, but we often have so many different places where we are trying to keep track of what we need to do that we forget where we put the information.

If you are a lover of simplicity, may I share with you how I have started organizing my to-dos on just two sheets of paper? In fact, they aren’t even full sheets.

When stores had their “Back to School” sales, I bought a pack of small spiral notebooks. They were about five for a dollar, I think. I carry one with me all the time and just use the pages in there for my lists.

Page 1: Today’s To-Dos

At the top of a page, I simply write the name of the next day, and form a numbered list of the things that have to get done. The key is “have to.” Far too often, we write down a thousand things and don’t know where to start. If you had to get done only three or four things tomorrow, what would go on that list? That’s what goes on this list.

On most days, my list has about five things on it. As a preacher, there is almost always “Sermon study/prep,” but I make note of which sermon (“Sunday night”) or class I need most to focus on. Usually, there is a visit or phone call that needs to be made. If, at the end of the day, those handful of things are accomplished, I have had a good day.

As a special note, if there is something that is scheduled (in my case, a counseling session is not uncommon), I write the “to-do,” but note the time in large, red letters out beside it. I also do use my smartphone and have it send me a reminder a few minutes beforehand. So, the entry on my paper might just say, “Counseling session with [name]. 2:00PM.” That way, the time will be looking at me throughout the day, and I’ll be able to coordinate my other “to-dos” around this one that is fixed, as far as time goes.

Page 2: Future/Wish List

Throughout any day, there are other items that come up and we would like to do them, or it would be nice if they happened. However, they drain us from the most important items on our list. That’s where the second piece of paper comes in. It is, in reality, nothing more than a small “scratch pad” where I write down things that come into my mind that need to get done in the future, I would like to do if time allows today, or that I just need to be reminded of.

Examples that go on this sheet are things like gift ideas for upcoming birthdays, phone numbers of people I need to call in the coming days, lists of people to ask to be on a committee, and other similar items. All these can be organized into a “to-do” list at a later date, but as the day goes on, it is best just to write down the short notation as a way to remember them later.

At the end of the work day, I look at this page and see if there is anything that needs to go on tomorrow’s to-do list. If so, it goes on there. If not, I leave the page there, and try to come back to it (along with all the others) on Sunday, so I can use these notes to plan out my week.

As with any other system, there are always things that slip through the cracks, but I was tired of having what seemed like endless places with notes and to-do lists. So, I went old-school, and it has helped me so much. Simplicity works for me, and perhaps it will work for you, too.

How do you keep track of your to-dos? Leave a comment!

  1. Linda

    What about the prayer list.? And how it grows…or things get removed. How do you handle that list – or that piece of paper?

    • Adam

      Great question. I do a “combo'” for prayers. If it someone I know personally, but who is not associated with our congregation, I try to just pray as I think of that person. It is not a “set” time or on a specific list.

      As for those within our congregation, I use our bulletin and worship notes to build my prayers. The names and situations don’t go on either one of the two pieces of paper mentioned in the article necessarily, unless, in praying, I think of a specific need that I can help with, then I write it down.

  2. Victor Illian

    Hey Adam, great idea for a quick and easy to-do list. I like your idea of having the second page of future to-dos so when you complete today’s list you can look ahead to see if there is something you should get started on.

    Another way I’ve been trying to optimize my to-do list is to build it into a project based list. Rather than single to-dos I’ll have projects or categories and group my to-dos there. Each morning I block of time for the project/category rather than an individual task. I’ve found this to help keep me on top of things when I have a very large list of tasks that get a bit overwhemling in a straight to-do check list.

    Thanks for the post!

    • Adam Faughn

      This is, in many ways, how I used to do things, but I struggled to keep up with “multi-step” projects this way. I really think it’s just how our brain works, and mine is very simple 🙂

  3. Tammy

    The future page is a great idea. Thanks

  4. LaToya

    I have a similar daily “to do” list, but I use a steno pad so that I can separate the things that I need to do at home from the things that I need to get done at work. I write the date at the top of the page and I write “Home” at the top of the left column and “Work” at the top of the right column. It works great for me. I will have to try the “Future list” idea because that sounds like the step that I am missing. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Stacy

    This is a great idea. I use the notes, calender feature and alarm function on my iPhone. I know not everyone may have this, but if you do, make good use of its functions. Make it work for you.

  6. Maja Corbic, CPA, CA

    Hi Adam,
    Thank you for sharing your system. I am always looking for simple ideas to keep myself organized. There are many apps out there that are great, but sometimes, I feel like I have too much information everywhere, so it’s hard to keep track. I will try your system, and let you know how it goes.

  7. Daniel

    The idea about the things to do in the future is very helpful. Sometimes I get good ideas which soon evaporate because I do not write them anywhere. With such a list, one can be fully occupied every day.

    Thanks for the idea.

  8. Victoria

    Adman, thanks for the great post! Simplicity is the best way. I will incorporate your ideas with some of the other comments as well.

  9. William Charles

    I like to have three or four pieces of paper. I have my to do (today), to do (week), to do (future) and my wish list.

    Whenever I come up with something that needs to be done, it goes on one of those lists. Most of the smaller tasks or time sensitivity stuff goes on the first two pieces, whilst everything else goes on the third page. The fourth page is more big picture stuff that can be looked at when current projects are finished.

  10. Oneil

    Great idea,
    It seems like I have so much to do that I get overwhelmed and don’t get as much done as needed. By following your advice I believe this will make the chores go much smoother. Thanks a lot and keep up the great work., It is very much appreciated.