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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
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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.

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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

A Complete Guide to Goal Setting for Personal Success How to Get Motivated Every Day When You Wake Up Can’t Focus? The Mistake You’re Making and How to Focus Better 17 Traits That Make a Successful Person Stand out from the Crowd What Is Creativity? We All Have It, and Need It

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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