Why To-Do Lists WORK

Part of my strategy to teach my children time management skills is to teach them the art of the to-do list. I’ve been giving them lists for their chores, school assignments and even their “fun” goals. And I’ve been working with them to create effective to-do lists for themselves too.

To-Do Lists Work

I work so hard to give my children this skill because to-do lists are effective. They are easy-to-use tools to organize your tasks and your thoughts. Here are some of the reasons why to-do lists work. And why they should be part of every time management strategy.

The Brain Dump Effect

A brain dump is when you “dump” onto paper all your notes-to-self, reminders, goals, nagging “I should do this” thoughts, half-formed ideas and future plans. It all gets written down, in no particular order, on paper (or in an app).

A to-do list takes a brain dump up a notch. Where brain dumps will clear the mind, to-do lists put your brain — with all its connected tasks — into an organized visual list.

To-do lists become my brain on paper, freeing up my energy and mental space to actually accomplish those tasks. I’m no longer worried about missing an appointment or forgetting to make that phone call, because it goes on the list.

Visual Reminders

There’s something about a list that just helps us to remember what it is we want to remember. With a written list, you’ve got something to refer back to. It helps keep you on track with your tasks. You can quickly scan a list and get an instant reminder of everything you wanted to — even with the shortest of words or phrases on the list.

A to-do list not only gives you that in-your-face reminder of your tasks and chores, but there’s motivation there too. There’s honestly nothing more satisfying than checking something off the list. And getting that list whittled down encourages me to continue working on the items.

With a to-do list that’s written out, there’s no more walking into a room and forgetting what you were going to do. There’s no more sitting at the computer and getting lost on social. And there’s no more squirrel moments while doing chores. You’ve got something that will continue to remind you of what you’re supposed to be doing.

Prioritization and organization

Writing things down in a list just begs to be put in order, right? Some things naturally fall into place: first you have to do this before you can do that. And sometimes, while writing down your tasks, it jogs your memory to write down other tasks that you’ve been meaning to do for a while and kept forgetting.

When you see it all laid out in a list, it’s easy to number them in order. Or you can combine tasks that can be done at the same time or in the same place. Having a to-do list makes it easy to organize your tasks, saving you time, energy and stress.

Sometimes I can get bogged down in all the tasks, and I don’t know where to start. Writing it down helps me figure out what I need to do, when I need to do it, and how much time I have left for the things I really want to do. And that reminds me of what value I place on my time — which leads me to working harder to check off the list!

Kinetic memory

This is one of the cool things about writing out a list — especially if you handwrite it. There’s a huge link between handwriting and the ability to remember things. Physically writing things engages multiple pathways in your brain, creating deeper connections.

The connection between your muscles, your eyes and your brain is huge. Writing things down affects not just your memory but your ability to process and learn too. Sometimes, in the act of writing out my to-do list, I’m better able to determine whether something I thought I wanted to do actually needed doing. All because I’m processing while I’m writing.

That’s not to say that typing your list into your phone or computer isn’t going to help you remember. It will — just not quite as good as handwriting. So if you want to have that recall effect for a day or two, typing out your to-do list is just fine. And of course you’ll have it to refer back to. But for best results? Grab that pen and paper!

No excuses not to do it!

To-do lists are the antidote to procrastination and distraction. When you feel like you can’t do anything at all, the to-do list gently reminds you that there is most definitely something you can do.

Sometimes it can feel like your to-do list is a nagging reminder of all that you haven’t done yet. It can feel pressuring and stressful. But if you remember that this is your list, you can treat it as a list of options for how you spend your time.

To-Do Lists are full of choices.

So when you don’t feel like doing anything, and you can’t seem to find the motivation, but you know you need something to do, your to-do list can help. You can look at the list. Find one thing that is easy to do. Checking it off will help create the momentum you need to get started.

And there’s a built in reward too. After all — crossing off all those items on your list is huge!

1 thought on “Why To-Do Lists WORK”

  1. I use sticky notes for my organizing and often for that “brain dump” you mentioned! It’s so helpful!! Thanks for all this great info. 🙂

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