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Published on December 30, 2019

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 July 13, 2020

How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

Overwhelm is a pernicious state largely caused by the ever-increasing demands on our time and the distractions that exist all around us. It creeps up on us and can, in its extreme form, leave us feeling anxious, stressed and exhausted.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, here are 6 strategies you can follow that will reduce the feeling of overwhelm; leaving you calmer, in control and a lot less stressed.

1. Write Everything down to Offload Your Mind

The first thing you can do when you begin to feel overwhelmed is to write everything down that is on your mind.

Often people just write down all the things they think they have to do. This does help, but a more effective way to reduce overwhelm is to also write down everything that’s on your mind.

For example, you may have had an argument with your colleague or a loved one. If it’s on your mind write it down. A good way to do this is to draw a line down the middle of the page and title one section “things to do” and the other “what’s on my mind”.

The act of writing all this down and getting it out of your head will begin the process of removing your feeling of overwhelm. Writing things down can really change your life.

2. Decide How Long It Will Take to Complete Your To-Dos

Once you have ‘emptied your head,’ go through your list and estimate how long it will take to complete each to-do.

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As you go through your list, you will find quite a few to-dos will only take you five or ten minutes. Others will take longer, often up to several hours.

Do not worry about that at this stage. Just focus on estimating how long you will need to complete each task to the best of your ability. Here’s How to Cultivate a More Meaningful To Do List.

3. Take Advantage of Parkinson’s Law

Now here’s a little trick I learned a long time ago. Parkinson’s Law states that work will fill the time you have available to complete it, and us humans are terrible at estimating how long something will take:((Odhable: Genesis of Parkinson’s Law))

    This is why many people are always late. They think it will only take them thirty minutes to drive across town when previous experience has taught them it usually takes forty-five minutes to do so because traffic is often bad but they stick to the belief it will only take thirty minutes. It’s more wishful thinking than good judgment.

    We can use Parkinson’s Law to our advantage. If you have estimated that to write five emails that desperately need a reply to be ninety minutes, then reduce it down to one hour. Likewise, if you have estimated it will take you three hours to prepare your upcoming presentation, reduce it down to two hours.

    Reducing the time you estimate something will take gives you two advantages. The first is you get your work done quicker, obviously. The second is you put yourself under a little time pressure and in doing so you reduce the likelihood you will be distracted or allow yourself to procrastinate.

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    When we overestimate how long something will take, subconsciously our brains know we have plenty of time and so it plays tricks on us and we end up checking reviews of the Apple Watch 4 or allow our colleagues to interrupt us with the latest office gossip.

    Applying a little time pressure prevents this from happening and we get more focused and more work done.

    4. Use the Power of Your Calendar

    Once you have your time estimates done, open up your calendar and schedule your to-dos. Go through your to-dos and schedule time on your calendar for doing those tasks. Group tasks up into similar tasks.

    For emails that need attention on your to-do list, schedule time on your calendar to deal with all your emails at once. Likewise, if you have a report to write or a presentation to prepare, add these to your calendar using your estimated time as a guide for how long each will take.

    Seeing these items on your calendar eases your mind because you know you have allocated time to get them done and you no longer feel you have no time. Grouping similar tasks together keeps you in a focused state longer and it’s amazing how much work you get done when you do this.

    5. Make Decisions

    For those things you wrote down that are on your mind but are not tasks, make a decision about what you will do with each one. These things are on your mind because you have not made a decision about them.

    If you have an issue with a colleague, a friend or a loved one, take a little time to think about what would be the best way to resolve the problem. More often than not just talking with the person involved will clear the air and resolve the problem.

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    If it is a more serious issue, then decide how best to deal with it. Talk to your boss, a colleague and get advice.

    Whatever you do, do not allow it to fester. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away. You need to make a decision to deal with it and the sooner you do so the sooner the problem will be resolved. (You can take a look at this guide on How To Make Good Decisions All The Time.)

    I remember long ago, when I was in my early twenties and had gone mad with my newly acquired credit cards. I discovered I didn’t have the money to pay my monthly bills. I worried about it for days, got stressed and really didn’t know what to do. Eventually, I told a good friend of mine of the problem. He suggested I called the credit card company to explain my problem. The next day, I plucked up the courage to call the company, explained my problem and the wonderful person the other end listened and then suggested I paid a smaller amount for a couple of months.

    This one phone call took no more than ten minutes to make, yet it solved my problem and took away a lot of the stress I was feeling at the time. I learned two very valuable lessons from that experience:

    The first, don’t go mad with newly acquired credit cards! And the second, there’s always a solution to every problem if you just talk to the right person.

    6. Take Some Form of Action

    Because overwhelm is something that creeps up on us, once we feel overwhelmed (and stressed as the two often go together), the key is to take some form of action.

    The act of writing everything down that is bothering you and causing you to feel overwhelmed is a great place to start. Being able to see what it is that is bothering you in a list form, no matter how long that list is, eases the mind. You have externalized it.

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    It also means rather than these worries floating around in a jumbled mess inside your head, they are now visible and you can make decisions easier about what to do about them. Often it could be asking a colleague for a little help, or it could be you see you need to allocate some focused time to get the work done. The important thing is you make a decision on what to do next.

    Overwhelm is not always caused by a feeling of having a lack of time or too much work, it can also be caused by avoiding a decision about what to do next.

    The Bottom Line

    Make a decision, even if it is to just talk to someone about what to do next. Making a decision about how you will resolve something on its own will reduce your feelings of overwhelm and start you down the path to a resolution one way or another.

    When you follow these strategies to can say goodbye to your overwhelm and gain much more control over your day.

    More Tips for Reducing Work Stress

    Featured photo credit: Andrei Lazarev via unsplash.com

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