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7 Reasons Why Creating a To-Do List Makes You Productive

7 Reasons Why Creating a To-Do List Makes You Productive

There are all kinds of productivity hacks out there. From the famous Pomodoro Technique to having a well structured, high-energy morning routine. The list can go on and on for various productivity methods. But none compare to the productivity hack of making a to-do list.

While some would disagree with me, the fact remains we are people in the end. There is something powerful when we put what we need to do on a piece of paper. In fact, putting together a to-do list can make us more productive in the right circumstances.

What are the benefits of creating a to-do list?

If you couldn’t tell, I’m a huge fan of a to-do list. They are what govern my day and I stand by them. Through my use of to-do lists, I’ve come to learn the perks to them and how to make the most of them.

I say this because as I mentioned above, some people would disagree with me. Some turn to articles that claim specific CEOs don’t use to-do lists or they’ve got first-hand experience how to-do lists have failed them in the past.

I won’t deny that I’ve struggled at first with a to-do list in the past. But there have also been times where a to-do list has saved me a lot of headaches and strifes as well.

As we explore the benefits of these lists, I hope you’ll see these lists the same way I do.

1. To-Do Lists Create Order

First on our list of benefits is the fact it creates order in our lives. Whenever we are tackling a project or following through with a plan, we need it broken down.

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We do this because our own brain can only handle so much in terms of a task. So if we break down a task into bite-sized and doable chunks, it’s easier to process and get things done.

You can even stretch this to the point that this helps us strategize our day too.

2. To-Do Lists Help You Create Accountability

In today’s age of technology, it’s rare for us to write things down. While that might be troubling to some people, I’d say it’s a good thing. It’s powerful because when we do write things down, we create accountability for ourselves.

Not only that, but something we write down sticks into our mind more than writing it in our smartphone or tablet.

Now that you’ve written something down, you’ve given it life and it’s up to us to accomplish that goal.

3. You Can Personalize Your To-Do Lists

If you look around, you’ll find all kinds of styles of to-do lists. Each one is unique and has it’s own perks to it – like this 1-3-5 to-do list created by The Muse.

The point is that, there are so many styles that you can take one style and make your own out of it, and still reap the benefits. This means there is plenty of room for you to experiment too.

4. To-Do Lists Help Relieve Your Stress

One other benefit I want to highlight is that it’s a stress reliever. I want to bring attention to this for two reasons:

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  • The feeling of moving forward and scratching off items on your to-do list is a feel good.
  • But it’s that feel-good feeling where some people argue where to-do lists can be destructive.

You see, the act of scratching things off your to-do list releases a substance called dopamine into your brain.[1] It makes us feel good and happy. But it’s also addictive.

Where some people argue against to-do lists is the fact some people will purposely make to-do lists excessively long just to get that dopamine fix. This makes sense because like an addiction, we grow numb and eventually need larger dosages to get that same feel-good feeling.

While that’s not a lie, the truth is that’s not on the fault of a to-do list by that point.

A to-do list, when done constructively, can relieve stress. When you consider the various methods of making a to-do list, you’ll find they’re conservative.[2]

People are only focused on a handful of tasks every day. They don’t bother writing a list for every single action they take. You can also incorporate other principles into your to-do lists in order to stay focused and relieve stress

5. A To-Do List Leaves You Open to Rescheduling and Organizing Time

Part of that stress relief comes in the form of more flexibility and organization of your time. Where there are so many deadlines for us to follow, knowing what’s coming up in advance can help us plan better.

In the event where you have too many things to do, you can try to reorganize the tasks. This can also work in the reverse where if you see an opening in your schedule, you can pick up your productivity so you can relax more later.

Having a to-do list can also help you in getting back to things whenever you are pulled away. Life throws distractions our way all the time, and having a to-do list can help you in getting back after you finished with something that took your attention.

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6. To-Do Lists Help You Delegate

And on the note of feeling overwhelmed, putting a to-do list can also help you in figuring out what you can delegate. If your list is way too long, you can shorten it by giving it to someone else.

The scenarios are different in every situation but for anything work related, there is large and thriving freelance industry ready to handle any task. In other cases, you could find an employee or possibly a family member or friend to help you out with a task outside of work.

7. A To-Do List Helps You Grow

When jumping into something, there are bound to be some bumps along the way. While these pitfalls cause people to get turned off from to-do lists entirely, I find them as a reason to grow.

With every new problem comes an opportunity to learn, and grow. There are all kinds of pitfalls people fall into with to-do lists[3] and facing these problems gives us a chance to thrive, learn and improve.

Remember that failure is only truly a failure if you give up and refuse to learn anything from the experience.

How to Reap the Benefits of a To-Do List?

Feeling overwhelmed. Missing deadlines. A tendency to forget about important things. General stress or anxiety and a lack of direction in life….

These are some of the common symptoms some people can experience when they lack a to-do list. At their core, a to-do list is a list of priorities. They can also be a list of goals that you want to achieve in your life or over the course of a week.

To-do lists are incredibly flexible tools for people but, it essentially serves as a compass for people. When we are writing something down, it sticks to us and further consult of that list serves as a reminder for us to get it done too.

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Of course, there are times where a to-do list will fail you. When we don’t use them properly, they are what many others have said: a waste of time. After all, most who use to-do lists poorly are unfocused and can be unreliable.

But when we are using them properly, this sense of order creates structure and can keep us in check. There is a sense of stress relief because we put into perspective how many things we have to do and the time allotted.

This compass aspect also plays another significant role in that it allows us to boost our productivity in several ways. While we think of to-do lists as a simple list of things to do, I’ve already outlined there are many ways to organize lists.

With this in mind, it makes sense there are various ways we can build on that. When we understand how we get things done, we can start to prioritize ways to get things done. Similar to the 80 20 rule, we begin to leverage the methods that will push us the most.

For some, it may be narrowing the items into specific instructions. Or maybe we work better with a few items but make them the most important tasks to complete. Whatever the case, when we have a direction, we get a better idea of what are some upgrades[4] to an already productive system.

Furthermore, if we are struggling with getting things on our to-do list, we can turn to active solutions or find some other things that are sapping at our energy. Ultimately, if we are failing at making a to-do list, we can learn to make them better and helpful.

The Bottom Line

A to-do list is the ultimate form of boosting productivity. Unlike many other tools out there, this one can incorporate multiple methods. Not only that, but it also takes a deeper look at our views and how we work.

The fact that a to-do list is so flexible allows us to use various methods and building blocks to make it a tool to help us improve and get so much done. I hope by the end of this you will give this a try and see how much a to-do list can change your life.

More to Help You Get Organized

Featured photo credit: The Journal Garden | Vera Bitterer via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on April 22, 2021

How to Work Hard the Smart Way: 4 Daily Rituals to Follow

How to Work Hard the Smart Way: 4 Daily Rituals to Follow

Habits are what sets an average leader apart from a great leader. We can argue that talent is the biggest factor; we may debate how the amount of charisma sets the two apart. Yet, if you were to show me what you believed to be a great leader, I can show you the habits that made her/him great. Great leaders have great habits and know how to work hard the smart way.

Developing Great Habits Is Hard Work

In my early college days, I had spent a lot of time learning how to play the trumpet. Playing the trumpet took time and discipline. I had some natural talent, but not enough to hide my lack of ability. My trumpet teacher was a man of discipline, and there was no doubt he had talent. What stood to me was his work ethic. He had to be one of the hardest working mentors that I had the privilege of working with.

One afternoon, I was in his office getting ready for my weekly trumpet lesson. As I was preparing, my eyes scanned the room and saw that there were quotes all over his office. My eyes rested on one quote that forever changed my thinking about my playing. It was a quote from my high school basketball coach Tim Notke that would become popular through professional athletes Kevin Durant and Tim Tebow:

“Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.”

Hard work trumps talent. The key to success is not found in your talent or ability. Talent and ability are necessary, but they are not the primary factors. They are supporting roles in the story you are writing.

Ultimately, hard work is the key to your success. A good work ethic creates the momentum that propels you forward towards your goals.

Motivation Is Not the Answer

How many times have you seen someone go to a conference, get inspired, and then come home and do nothing?

If motivation were the answer, the world would have transformed hundreds of times over. Yet, when we look out our doors or turn on the news, we do not see a utopian society.

We have thousands of people who become inspired but lack the work ethic to apply anything they have learned. Time and time again frustration creeps in. We are so motivated and inspired by what we see but fail to put in place the things that would change our lives.

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Frustration happens when the gap between what you expect to be true and what is true gets bigger. Motivation tends to create an expectation that is not rooted in reality. We want to take on the world but cannot get off Netflix long enough to do so.

Motivation is not the answer, but working hard is. Good habits and routines that produce success are the byproducts of a strong work ethic. The habits and routines we create and follow are the foundation on which we build a winning life.

How to Work Hard by Working Smarter

Here are 4 routines that will help you learn how to work hard and achieve your short term and long term goals.

1. Define What a Win Looks Like

In football, a player that crosses into the end zone gain points. In soccer, a player kicks the ball into the net to score. Hockey, lacrosse, and basketball are all the same. The player takes the object and moves it into the designated area to gain points. The team with the most points wins the game.

Why is it that we can define what a win looks like in sports, but we fail to do so in our leadership, our businesses, or our homes?

Learning how to work hard without setting a target is futile. It is insanity to work hard without having a clear direction to place your energy. I would argue that defining a win is one of the most important routines that a leader can have. Defining a win separates superficial activity from meaningful activity.

When I define a win, I know the goal line I have to cross[1]. Knowing where the goal line is informs me of the activity I have to engage in to cross it. Without a clear direction, I am spinning my wheels hoping that I will get to a destination I haven’t defined. It is like asking a GPS for directions but failing to input the destination.

4 Steps to Define a Win
  • Know the outcome you desire.
  • Declare the outcome in specific, meaningful terms.
  • Write the outcome down.
  • Set your activity list to only do that which will complete your goals.

Let me give you an example. 15 years ago, I started speaking professionally. As a young and naïve speaker, I thought winning meant that I had to get a reaction from the audience. If they cheered, smiled, or cried, I considered myself a winner. The problem was my lack of understanding of what a win looked like. As a seasoned speaker, my wins look different.

As of today, when I speak, I am not looking for any emotional reactions from the audience. I win if, and only if, I clearly communicated my point so that anyone hearing the talk can take it and apply it to their lives that day. That is how I define a win when I speak now.

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Create a habit of declaring a win. When you do, you will see your productivity soar and your encouragement increase. Pairing a hard work ethic with wise decisions creates victory. Stop being a mouse on a wheel that goes nowhere, and start being the captain of your fleet.

2. Evaluate Your Activity

Not all activity is equal. There are things you must do, things you need to do, and things we can either give away or delete. The greatest challenge of a leader is understanding the difference. Understanding what activity is busywork and what activity is mission work is pivotal.

Not only do we need to learn how to evaluate our activity, but we must make this a core routine in our arsenal of success. Stop working so hard on everything and start learning how to work hard on the right things.

Not every activity will move the needle forward for you. In fact, you were never meant to do everything yourself! Once we stop trying to be a martyr in our leadership, we can start looking at how to take things off our plates through delegation.

Based on the Eisenhower box, there are 4 things that we look at when deciding on which activities are important:

  • Do now
  • Plan to do it later
  • Delegate to someone else
  • Delete it

Powerful questions are the way you discover if the activity is right or not:

  • Does this activity move me towards or away from my goals?
  • Do I have to do this activity or can I give this activity away to someone else?
  • Does this activity have to be now right now or can it be scheduled for later dates?
  • Does this activity have to be done at all?

Evaluating the type of activity you engage in should be a routine that you do daily. Learning how to work hard should create progress. Having a system of evaluation and a routine to do it will help.

3. Prioritize Your Calendar

If you were to show me your calendar, I could show you why you are not further along. When you lack the routine of placing things on your calendar, two things happen.

First, what does not make it on your calendar does not get done.

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It is a simple truth that is often overlooked. Your calendar contains the power to change your life. Yet, we don’t use our calendars to their fullest potential.

“You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” -John C. Maxwell

Also, if you don’t mark you activities on your calendar, you are leaving it open to other’s priorities.

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” -Stephen Covey

Having a routine in your life where you place things on your calendar is pivotal to your success. This is not a routine one should overlook.

It’s time to take your leadership and business to the next level. It’s time to start putting your daily routines on your calendar, along with your priorities.

4. Reflect on Your Day and Plan the Next

We are all about the morning routine. Whatever that looks like for you, there should be a routine in the morning that sets you up for success.

Hard work starts when your feet hit the ground in the morning. Creating the habit of winning starts with the first thing you accomplish that morning. If you win your morning, you will win your day.

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Best Morning Routine to Prepare to Work Hard

    But how often have you heard people talk about an evening routine? Tomorrow is won the day before it happens. When you fail to plan your day, you may put your effort toward in the wrong things. Route replaces routine. Indecision replaces decisiveness. Losses replace wins. The discouragement will deflate your momentum and increases the chances of procrastination. That is why we set our schedule the night before.

    “Every battle is won or lost before it is ever fought.” -Sun Tzu

    Working hard doesn’t have to be hard work. It shouldn’t take much out of you learn how to work hard as long as you work smart. Having a time where you reflect on the day and set your priorities is the difference-maker.

    Use these questions to reflect on your day:

    • What went well?
    • What didn’t go well?
    • What can I change?
    • What do I need to start doing?
    • What do I need to stop doing?

    The Bottom Line

    Navigating through life is hard work. Yet, the work doesn’t have to be hard when you work smarter. When you create routines that support your mission, you create wins. Working hard, the smart way will tip the balance in our favor.

    Boxing legend Joe Frazier said:

    “Champions aren’t made in the ring; they are merely recognized there.”

    Champions put in the hard work behind the scenes. The world recognized them as a champion when they saw the results of the hard work. Right now, you are doing the work of creating a champion in yourself.

    That work is setting your routines in order because you now know that success flows from your daily routines. If you are not experiencing the success you desire, then it is time to change things up.

    More on Creating Healthy Routines

    Featured photo credit: Zan via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] The Balance Careers: Interview Question: “How Do You Define Success?”

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