I was on jury duty recently and noticed the woman next to me, a law professor at Columbia University, had scribbled something on her hand. At first I couldn’t figure out what it was.

The judge was asking questions to determine if we could be impartial. What did we do for a living, whether we were married, if we had kids and where they went to school. She asked what we did in our free time. One guy said he liked to read. “Anything you recommend?” the judge asked. Goldfinch, a novel by Donna Tartt, the guy said.

At the mention of the book the Columbia professor perked up. She snatched her pen and scribbled the name of the book on her hand.

I’ve never been one of those people who write things on my hand, but I could relate. I’ve been taking notes and making lists all my life. When I was a kid in church I would take notes on the sermon and ask my mother about it later. It was probably charming the first time.

I start each day by making a list of the things I have to do. I picked up the habit after reading David Allen’s book Getting Things Done. I divide the list into things for work and things for home. Each column has three sections: things that have to happen that day, things that can be done that week and longer-term goals. When I finish each task I cross it off. The next day I start over.

I know plenty of people who do something similar. It’s weird in our digital age how many people still write lists by hand. I keep telling myself I need to migrate to an online program, but I prefer to use paper and carry the sheet around until I replace it.

Pretty much everyone I know makes lists and over the years as I’ve visited family and friends I like to compare them. I visited some friends recently and noticed this list on their refrigerator:

Another person I visited has a similar version:

I know someone who keeps track of his assignments at work by writing them on a napkin.

As he finishes each task he crosses it off. He doesn’t throw away the napkins, however. Instead, they pile up on his desk like a snow drift in winter.

I think the napkin solution is genius. It’s not pretty and it may not be practical since you can’t really carry a pile of napkins around to meetings. But it is efficient and highlights one of the best qualities of any “to do” list: that it never grow too long.

**Published by Ted Merz Feb 7, 2015**