“The list is the origin of culture.” –
With 2019 well and truly here, many of us may have made New Year’s resolutions to get organised and get more done, whether it be in your personal or professional life.
One tried and tested method to ensure you stay on top of things is the old favourite of writing a to-do list. From decreased anxiety to improved memory, there are many benefits to making this time-honoured system a bigger part of your life and daily routine.
Why write a to-do list?
Let’s take a look at some of the psychology behind the making of to-do lists. The simplicity of the task is where the genius often lies, and some believe that the creation of a list is actually more important than the implementation of it. Psychologist and author Dr. David Cohen champions the act of writing a to-do list on paper and the need for it to be continually checked in on. Doing this enables us to forge a plan that we can stick to and gives us tangible proof at the end of the day of what we have achieved.
Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik, in observing that restaurant servers could only recall diners’ orders before they had been served, discovered that the brain lets go of information it thinks it no longer needs – this is now dubbed the “Zeigarnik effect.” The crossing off of completed tasks, therefore, frees up room in your mind for the tasks that still need to be done.
The benefit here is a no-brainer. Writing down your tasks for the day, week or month allows you to focus and prioritise what needs to be completed, allowing less room for distraction and procrastination.
Once you have written something down, studies show that you are more likely to remember it. Taking the time to sit down and put pen to paper on the matter attaches intention and increases the likelihood that you will remember it and other similar tasks.
No one can deny the feeling of accomplishment when you can cross off a completed task on your to-do list. And this great feeling will only positively reinforce that action to keep completing your tasks.
This decluttering of to-do’s by transferring them from your mind to paper also positively impacts your sleep. Much like journalling before bed, the act of writing down the thoughts in your head helps to clear the mind and slow the heartbeat in preparation for sleep.
How to get the most out of your to-do list
To get the most out of your to-do list there are a few tips that can help to streamline the process and make the unachievable seem suddenly achievable.
Separate your short- and long-term goals
Start by separating your short- and long-term goals. Tasks and goals can be totally different and both have their own priorities and actionables. However, it helps with both tasks and long-term goals to break them down into smaller more achievable actions, allowing for an increased sense of productivity to keep you heading in the right direction!
Grouping tasks under a shared category
Writing out all your tasks can help you see which ones can be grouped together. Time management expert David Allen emphasises the need for specificity, narrowing down tasks to the last detail and grouping them by category – is it an email, an errand or a phone call? If your do to-list isn’t clear and specific there’s a chance it may get lost amongst the constant influx of new to-do’s coming in.
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