Making lists is the only reason I ever get anything done (including this blog), so I thought I’d do some research on how to improve my lists and report my findings to you, dear reader.
Making a list is probably one of the best ways to be more productive and it’s super easy. Unfortunately, some people associate it with control freaks (although control freaks seem to like them) but honestly, they make your life a lot easier no matter who you are or what your lifestyle is like.
I love making lists, ever since I was a weird little kid (who turned into a weirder adult). By making a list, I give myself the false impression that I have my life together, and don’t get me started on the satisfaction I feel when I get to cross something off it.
Why do lists get things done?
As I said, making lists, especially to-do lists, make you more productive—but what is the psychology behind it? If you think of your mind as a browser with multiple tabs open (you wanting to remember multiple things), then a list helps you to close some of those tabs. In that way, you ‘free up space’ in your brain to concentrate on other tasks without worrying about the things on your list.1
I also read that if you put an item on your to-do list, there is about a third higher chance that you will do it. By having that item on the list, you hold yourself responsible for completing that task.2
Also, lists are quite versatile. You do not have to stick to only making to-do lists. They are a great tool for whenever you feel the need to lay out your thoughts tangibly to get clarity on something. Except for grocery lists, and to-do lists, you can also have a list for things that are bothering you, plans for the future, a goal list (personal or work-related), lists for any area of your life or time frame, and the list goes on (pun intended).
What I have found very helpful is that a list gives me an overview of how much I have to do in a specific time frame (having a monthly, weekly, and daily list is a good idea). If I can see that I have many things to do, then I’ll think twice about making more work commitments or mindlessly wasting my time on social media (are you familiar with the YouTube hole?).
How to improve your lists
Obviously, one size does not fit all for organising your life, but here are a few tips and tricks.
When you make a list, it is advisable to put the most important items or tasks at the top. Less important things that do not have to get done immediately go down the list—it just makes sense.
Break it up
Making a list can make you anxious when you see how much you have to do. That is why it is important to remember that everything does not have to happen at once. You can break it up into manageable pieces or tasks over time.
For instance, if you have an assignment that is due in two weeks, you can break up the work into workable chunks over that time. Here, you would obviously use a list to track what you need to do and what has been completed.
Again, it is important to prioritize your work or task, as mentioned before. Also, try not to put too many items on your to-do list as it may demotivate you.2
Put time aside for yourself
If you have a busy lifestyle or working hard on a project, it is important to put time aside in your to-do list or daily schedule for the things that feed your soul. This can include your passion projects, hobbies, some ‘me’ time, or time for relationships or friendships.
Attach a time frame
Making lists is one thing—sticking to them is another. The mistake I tend to make is to be much too optimistic about how much stuff I can get done in one day or one week. What I find helps is to allocate a specific time frame for each task. Then I realise that I am not Wonder Woman and need to prioritize more.
Life happens, and therefore you need to work some kind of grace period into your schedule. I find that when I can see that I won’t have enough time for all the things I have to do; it demotivates me. I’m sure you can relate. You reason ‘Well, I’m screwed anyway. I might as well take that nap that my soul is craving.’ On the other hand, when I am ahead with my list, I may want to see how far ahead I can get—is it just me?
You can change it
Again, life happens and when it happens to you, you can always go back to your list and tweak it for the new circumstances. A list should not paralyse or make you feel inadequate, because that is a recipe for depression and anxiety.
New lists every day
To add to the previous point, another is to make a new list every day. The reasoning behind this is that every day has unique challenges. You can’t have the same list every day even if it feels like every day at work or wherever is the same.3
For example, if you are sick you can put something like ‘take a nap’ on your list or schedule in the time you have to go to the doctor. Also, don’t have the same template list every day.
If you feel you are struggling to meet all the demands, rather focus on the small wins. Keep a record of your ‘wins’ or the things you have accomplished.
It seems strange, but I think if you see how much you have achieved so far, it motivates you to accomplish even more. This is also why it is important to break up big tasks—then you can monitor the small goals that you achieved.3
I suggest making your to-do list for the following day the night before because that way you already know what you’ll have to do that day when you wake up. Sometimes when I wake up, I don’t feel as optimistically productive as I did the previous night, but having the list ready to go makes me more productive.2
I hope this post has helped and motivated you to organise that area of your life that you struggle with. Researching this topic has definitely helped me.
Is there anything you think I should include? For any tips or comments, please contact me (details below)
PPS: I used these sites as my sources: