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

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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.

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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

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Last Updated on October 21, 2021

How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

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How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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Program Your Own Algorithms

Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

How to Form a Ritual

I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

  1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
  2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
  3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
  4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

Ways to Use a Ritual

Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

1. Waking Up

Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

2. Web Usage

How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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3. Reading

How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

4. Friendliness

Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

5. Working

One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

6. Going to the gym

If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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7. Exercise

Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

8. Sleeping

Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

8. Weekly Reviews

The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

Final Thoughts

We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

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More Tips to Conquer Time Wasters and Procrastination

 

Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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