By Dr Joe
Are there any benefits to having a to-do list? Well, in my opinion, there are.
Life is chaotic in itself. Modern life, even more so.
Life throws a lot of challenges and indeed every now and again will throw us a curve ball.
With so much to do and so little time, we inevitably become overwhelmed. Overwhelm in itself can lead to stress. Sometimes significant stress.
One way to reduce stress in our busy lives is the use of a to-do list.
A to-do list won’t magically solve our problems but it would at least reduce the burden.
Anything that keeps the vehicle of life tasks ticking along nicely can only be a good thing.
I use a to-do list most of the time and I find it very useful. The contrast is when I forget to make a to-do list and carry on with the day’s tasks regardless, my productivity drops like a stone.
I find myself jumping from one task to another usually because I suddenly remembered it’s another task that needs to be done.
Most times abandoning an incomplete task for another. That by definition, is distraction.
It doesn’t matter that the new task is relevant.
That manner of haphazard approach is neither productivity-friendly nor mind-friendly. That’s chaos no matter how you dress it up.
Does that scenario resonate with you?
Anyone who says they don’t struggle to accomplish all of their daily tasks both at home and in the office is probably in denial.
What’s weird is not only do we have difficulty getting tasks completed and on time, we also even have difficulty with the planning stages of tasks.
What is it that I actually need to do today, tomorrow, this week, this month? That in itself becomes a challenge for some of us.
A to-do list encompasses that and solves that problem.
What is a to-do list?
A to-do list is a basic tool that enables you put down what it is that needs to get done in the first place, the order you need to do these tasks and when you want them done by.
A to-do list is the What, How & When of your tasks.
You could refer to a to-do list as a task managing tool. A task master sheet, if you like.
To-do lists aren’t new.
It’s an old concept that’s been around for ages. The problem with a to-do list is that it is simple. In fact, it is so simple that people often ignore it.
Human beings are a complex bunch. If something appears too simple, we assume it is not effective. We find it difficult to see beyond the simplicity of that technique or tool.
How can something be so simple and yet be so effective?
Well, a to-do list fits that bill.
But a good to-do list is more than the generic one below. That’s the daily grind to-do list of most people. The to-do list that makes life just a tad tedious. Our to-do list is much more. A lot more…
So, what are the benefits of a to-do list?
- Memory Recall Tool
Remember, I said we sometimes even struggle with the planning stages of what it is we want to do, right?
Well, here is a simple tool to alleviate that pain – a to-do list.
With a hectic lifestyle as it is today, your brain has a lot to deal with. So much stuff to remember. Hence, it can be a challenge to remember the things we want to do.
How about you write them down on a to-do list.
That way you never have to struggle with the planning stages of your tasks.
And you know what:
You won’t forget one or two items that may come to hunt you later on. Heaven forbids, it’s an important but simple task of making that life-changing phone call for you, an employee or your relative.
If only you wrote it down…
2. Structure and Order to your day
A to-do list provides a structure to your day.
Writing down what needs to be done has just put your day in a box. You now know what needs to be done.
You have structured the order on the lists of tasks to be done for the day.
Having a structure is good for the brain. Your brain is now aware of the things you want to do. Your brain will now organise itself along those lines. Less work for your mind.
3. Task Prioritisation
One of the things a to-do list will help you achieve is task prioritisation. You are not just going to have a brain dump when you make your to-do list.
No, a brain dump on paper is not enough.
Writing down tasks is good but it gets better when you weigh what needs to be done first and what can wait till later on in the day or week.
If all the tasks are equally important, that’s fine. But you will find that when you pen down your to-do list, some tasks will jump at you straightaway as being more important.
The mere fact of writing down a task on paper just makes you accountable. You have written it down. That means you need to complete the task and cross it off your to-do list.
If it’s not written, you might pay lip-service to the task or even forget to do it altogether.
Writing down a task equals accountability. If you don’t get it done, it will be staring you in the face as a reminder. Begging to get done!
5. Re-Schedule & Delegate Tasks as Necessary
That last point about accountability brings me to the issue of re-scheduling of tasks.
Yes, you might not be able to finish all of the listed to-do list activities for the day and you will know because your to-do list tells you so.
So, one benefit of having a to-do list is that you can look at the list and re-schedule stuff.
If a task is running late or completely undone, is it possible that someone else in your organisation can take on that task and complete it on your behalf.
After all, you are working as a team.
It doesn’t make sense you over-burden yourself with a humongous number of tasks, when it is obvious that “the luggage” is too heavy.
Could you delegate the task to someone else?
Would delegation be a reasonable thing to do?
Those are 2 valid questions you should be asking yourself if a particular task is not running on schedule.
Obviously, if delegation wouldn’t work, then you have to reschedule the task to a more convenient time and realistic time.
A to-do list will encourage you to do just that.
6. Organise Tasks in a Manageable Manner
When you write your to-do list tasks, quite apart from listing your tasks, you should be organising them in such a way as to manage them effectively.
When you list a task, you should be mindful of whether a particular task is too chunky and could use a sub-task listing.
For instance, in the task of writing this article, I will put down on paper:
Write To-Do List Article (this is the main task)
Sub-tasks of this task will be:
=> Edit and proof-read article
=> Add images
=> Write meta tags
=> Publish article
Doing things this way makes the task of writing this article much more manageable and a lot more appealing.
The reason is because I have broken the task down to bite-size sub-tasks. When you do that, you don’t feel challenged anymore.
And indeed, you can apply this principle to any tasks ahead of you.
Like they say: “the best way to eat an elephant is in small bites”.
7. Increased Productivity
What’s the short-term advantage of a to-do list? Well, the idea of a to-do list is an increase in productivity. That’s the short-term advantage.
And a well-managed to-do list will do just that.
It’s not hard to imagine this happening at all.
Writing tasks down ensures they get done and ensures no memory lapse occurs. Writing it down means you won’t forget to do one or two tasks and you don’t need to strain your memory to know what tasks you are planning to do.
A to-do list ensures you manage your time wisely. As the saying goes: “Time is Money”. Your bite-size approach means you don’t get intimidated by any tasks.
The net result is an overall increase in productivity. An increase in output. The beauty of this is; you get that immediate feedback looking at your crossed-out tasks for the day or the week.
That immediate feedback is enough to get you excited and actually gives a euphoric feeling. Nothing works better for your ego more than a positive feedback.
What’s the psychology of a to-do list?
I’ve touched a lot on the psychology of a to-do list in the course of this article. Just like that feeling of euphoria I described a short while ago.
But it’s not only upon the completion of a task you get that psychological boost. It also happens at the planning stages of your tasks.
One main thing that happens with writing down a to-do list even before it’s execution is that a to-do list actually relieves anxiety.
Not only anxiety relief but writing a to-do list gives the individual the impetus to get on with the job.
I’m not just saying that for effect. Studies have been carried out and they confirm this. For instance, this study by Brandstatter and his colleagues demonstrated that implementation intentions drives immediate action initiation.
They also found this psychological advantage did not change when there was burdensome cognitive load and mental resources were low as a result.
Gollwitzer also demonstrated that if you could deal with the problem of implementation intention, that automatically takes care of the usual suspects that blight attainment of the desired goal.
And the usual suspects being; ‘failing to get started‘ and ‘getting distracted‘. Both of which can be easily taken care of by a to-do list.
Masicampo and Baumeister also showed that a poor execution of a warm-up activity had a negative influence on the execution of a task.
But if you had a well-executed warm-up activity before commencing the task, then goal attainment was not and shouldn’t be a problem. The task will be executed seamlessly.
Executing a task successfully was always enhanced by a pre-task plan of how, when and where.
You should see a to-do list as a plan to execute a task. This is particularly important if the task is daunting and even when it is not.
I don’t consider article writing a daunting task because I love writing. In fact, the only problem I have writing articles is finger soreness from the keyboard bashing because of how much writing that I do.
But I still have to break my article writing down to sub-tasks. This ensures I don’t forget any component of the process – from initiating the writing to publishing the article.
As you saw from my earlier description, that there are sub-tasks involved in getting an idea for an article to actually publishing it live.
Now, if I were to extrapolate this writing activity to writing a book, then everything changes. That is a much more challenging prospect. Challenging it may be, but the approach will be the same.
I will list this book-writing activity and break it down to sub-tasks in the form of writing one chapter after another. I will take it a step further and break down each chapter to the beginning, the middle and the end.
That way, you reduce anxiety and the stress that will come with writing a book. I hope this is all making sense to you.
If you apply this tactic in your to-do list, you should increase productivity by at least 4 folds.
And you reduce stress associated with your day-to-day tasks…even running your home.
Need I remind you of the joy of looking at the crossed-out activities leading up to the completion of the task. Cool, huh!
Also, do remember to be flexible with your to-do list. Flexibility helps tone down any stress that may be associated with pressure to complete your to-do list tasks.
The idea is to enjoy your task not endure it.
Suggested further reading:
How To Supercharge Your Life and Restore Glowing Good Health