A to-do list is your first defence against the chaos of mounting tasks. It’s a way to take that onslaught of work and organize it, prioritize it and see at-a-glance when each individual assignment is due. This is how you start to manage workflow and create the beginnings of a schedule to help get things done on time.
What Is a To-Do List?
The to-do list is a tool to help you organize. It collects anything you are responsible for and captures those tasks in one place. The list must be thorough. Every little thing must be represented, and only after you’ve exhausted all the tasks can you then begin to prioritize them, add due dates and begin to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
It feels to some that the to-do list has been around as long as the wheel. People have been jotting down stuff on scraps of paper since there’s been paper. That’s because there’s always something to do.
That something has only gotten more complex and dense as time has gone on. From finding food and shelter, it’s evolved into a roadmap of many points to offer us direction in our increasingly hectic day.
Some tasks on your to-do list will show themselves not as important as others, so you can schedule your time more effectively. Others will stand out as critical. When you have a deadline attached to these important tasks, you can work backwards from that date to schedule your time wisely and accomplish what needs to be done.
Do To-Do Lists Work?
The simple answer as to whether a to-do list is effective is it depends. Mostly, it depends on if you use them. Just collecting and not acting is procrastinating. So, a to-do list is only as good as the person using it.
That said, there is some clinical data that backs up the to-do list as an effective organizational tool. Psychologist and author Dr. David Cohen believes to-do lists are psychologically helpful, if not the solution to the problem. That problem, of course, can only be resolved by executing the tasks on that to-do list successfully.
However, Dr. Cohen says to-do lists accomplish three major steps that lead one closer to acting on those tasks. Firstly, a to-do list helps to lower the level of anxiety that one feels when there’s a lot of work piling up. A to-do list also provides a much-needed structure to that work, which makes it more manageable. Finally, he says, at the end of the day, they show us that we’ve in fact accomplished something.
Why You Need a To-Do List
If you still need convincing about the value of using a to-do list, just look at your day. There’s a lot to do there, right? Whether you’re working or just living your life, there are tasks that need completion, bills that need to be paid, places you have to be, people you need to meet. The list can feel endless, which is why it’s best to have it physically written down, or better yet, collected in a , so you can see the full picture.
It should be clear now that a to-do list will make you more organized. That means your work is more manageable, which means it’s more likely to get done. You have an outline to ground your actions, and it feels good to cross those to-do line items off your list.
Being organized also means that you feel a sense of progress, which gives you a sense of moving forward rather than just attacking whatever task comes at you in the moment. This will do wonders in terms of motivating you and keeping you from feeling overwhelmed. That’s because a to-do list is really the beginnings of a plan. Studies show the more time you spend planning, the more time you save when executing it.
Another benefit of the to-do list is that it helps your memory. That’s because no matter how good your memory might be, it’s never going to hold all the information you need to remember.
An average person can remember about seven items of information for 30 seconds, so if there are more than seven items you need to recall, you better get a to-do list.
By putting something in a to-do list you have permission to forget about it, but, ironically, you are more likely to retain that information after you write it down. And even if you don’t recall what it was you put on the to-do list, it’s there for you to access at any time.
To-do lists also help with productivity. When you prioritize, you’re able to see the wheat from the chaff and concentrate on those tasks that are critical, without wasting your time on the ones that are trivial. A Harvard Business Review study shows that 90 percent of managers waste time because of poor time management. Time can be better managed through to-do lists, among other things.
Also, a to-do list can help you focus. Distractions are distracting and that keeps productivity at bay. Having a to-do list to reference is like an anchor to keep you on task. You can dive deeply into your work and know that your to-do list is at hand when you need to see where you are in the process.
Finally, a to-do list is also a motivational tool. They clarify your goals and provide a sense of accomplishment as you cross each item off the list. That builds motivation and has a cumulative effect.