Advice, Lifestyle

The psychology behind to-do lists and why you should make one

If your daily schedule of academics, athletics and personal life is anything like mine, you are constantly in a state of stress and anxiety about trying to keep track and accomplish your day-to-day tasks.

Are you not as productive as you would like to be? Or struggle to keep yourself motivated? If so, it is time to pick up a pencil and a piece of paper, and start creating your daily to-do list.

Smaran Ramidi / DFP Staff

You may be asking yourself — do to-do lists actually help? The answer is yes. Studies have shown that people perform better when they write down what they need to do.

Shamarukh Chowdhury, a senior doctoral student at Carleton University, collected data from 300 undergraduate students and found that students who use a to-do list more, procrastinate less. This was due to conscientiousness, including not being impulsive and staying self-disciplined.

Another study by Ralph Ryback, a former professor at Harvard Medical School and the medical director of the Mindful Health Foundation, found that “The satisfaction of ticking off a small task is linked with a flood of dopamine.”

One major benefit of creating a to-do list is the rewarding aspect. You are more likely to repeat that behavior, ultimately completing more tasks and leading to a more productive day. You will stay motivated by sticking to the plan that you have written down. Your lifestyle will be more structured, creating less chaos in your life.

However, a to-do list also has one major downfall. If you create a to-do list that is too lengthy, it can be overwhelming. You may not accomplish each task because you keep adding to the list, so you fall further and further behind. A way to keep yourself from getting discouraged is to first follow the 1-3-5 rule.

Alex Cavoulacos, the founder and president of The Muse, created this rule. There are only 24 hours in a day, so there is only so much you can do. With this rule, choose one big task that you would like to accomplish first. Once that is done, pick three medium sized tasks to complete, and then write out five smaller tasks that you would like to achieve.

Writing down these various tasks will keep you satisfied and focused on the success of your day.

When creating daily to-do lists, you may have more than one list. This may be a simple shopping list, a basic academic list of homework or even a personal-to-do list for the whole week, instead of just one day. If you choose to make multiple to-do lists, assign due-dates and hold yourself accountable to meeting the deadlines. If you take my advice, you will see significant improvement in your time-management skills.

One last thing to mention before you go make your own to-do list is to understand that you should just jot down lists, not goals and objectives. Otherwise your to-do list won’t be effective and your life will revert to the cluttered mess it once was.

To-do lists are a great way to feel productive and satisfied at the end of the day. If you do not normally write down your daily tasks, you should give it a try. The organization in your life will lead you to success.

After all, Christina Scalise, a best-selling author, once said, “Organization isn’t about perfection; it’s about efficiency, reducing stress and clutter, saving time and money and improving your overall quality of life.”

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