The benefits of an organised to-do list can’t be ignored
Personal productivity starts with personal organisation. Without knowing which tasks you must do, you will never be in control. So, you can imagine how astonished I am that so few of my new clients use a well organised to-do list.
Thankfully, modern technology and task management software makes it easy to keep to-do lists, and fully adapt them to your individual needs. You can even integrate them with your email and calendar to create your personal productivity system.
In this post, you’ll learn about the major benefits of using a task manager, and I’ll discuss the most common arguments I hear on why people don’t use to-do lists.
8 Reasons you should use a to-do-list
1. A trusted task manager allows you to empty your mind
Writing a to-do list transfers your tasks out of your brain. It allows you to empty your mind, and stops your brain from bugging you with tasks you must do. David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, refers to this as “mind like water”, a mental and emotional state in which your head is clear and you can respond without distractions and a lack of focus.
Having an empty mind is enormously beneficial when you go to bed, or when you’re working on a big task, or when you just want to read a book. It allows you to forget everything, because it is stored in your system. It’s a great feeling, but one that is only possible when you have a task manager you can trust.
2. A to-do list releases brainpower
The human brain may be the best computer in the world, but it does have limitations. Overload it with a long list of tasks to do, and for sure some of them will fall through the cracks. On top of that, you won’t have your brainpower available to perform the task at hand.
3. It helps you achieve your dreams and goals
A long-term goal will remain vague and out of reach if you don’t create the smaller tasks to get you there. Large tasks can be broken down. These then become manageable to-do list items: doable tasks that help to energise your efforts and eliminate procrastination. Listing them in your task manager paves the road to achieve your big goals.
4. It helps you focus on the important tasks
Only when you have written down all of your to-do’s, you can evaluate what is really important and what isn’t. Once you have the overview, it becomes easy to prioritise the tasks that matter most to you.
5. It gets you organised and gives you control over your life
A to-do list helps you to become and stay organised. Your calendar and your task manager tell you exactly what you need to do next. And as you are the one determining what should be on there, it gives you ultimate control over your life.
6. To-do lists increase your reputation
Be known as someone who always does what they say they will, when they say they will. A to-do list eliminates those embarrassing moments when you’ve forgotten a deadline or even a whole project.
7. Get the feel-good factor and boost your motivation
Every time you tick a task off your to-do list, you get to give yourself a pat on the back. John Perry, a philosophy professor at Stanford University and author of The Art of Procrastination, suggests that adding even the most mundane tasks to your to-do list can give you extra pep. Describing his to-do list in an interview, he said, “It says: wake up. That’s worth a check. Get out of bed. That’s worth a check. Make the coffee. That’s a check. Drink the coffee. That’s a check. By the time I’ve had my coffee I’ve done three things and I feel like a real effective human being.” This is a bit over the top for my personal tast, but still, looking back at the end of the day seeing the tasks you performed is really a great feeling.
8. It helps you say “No”
Having a list of tasks and knowing exactly where you stand at all times stops you from becoming overloaded with work. When you know how many things you have to do, you’ll find it easier to say no to someone else when you should.
Why people say they don't use to do lists
When I first approach the subject of using a to-do list and task manager with a client who doesn’t, I always hear the same arguments. You may think the same way, but, as you’ll now discover, these arguments have little foundation:
“I never finish my to-do list, so what’s the point?”
It’s true – the completed to-do list, just like Inbox Zero, is a target which is rarely fully achieved. According to The Busy Person’s Guide to the Done List, 41% of tasks on a to-do list are never completed.
Guess what… That’s totally okay!
The real point of a to-do list is to access the benefits I’ve outlined above. It puts you in control, giving you the ability to consciously decide whether to do a task or not. You get to prioritise and tick off the most important tasks as you move towards your goals. You can always delete consciously tasks that you cannot, or do not want to do anymore! The goal of a task list is not to finish the task list. It is there just to help you do the things you want to do.
“Seeing all those tasks stresses me out.”
This is understandable. I’ve been there myself. But here’s the thing: you get to decide which tasks are most important and which you don’t need to finish. Select the most important or urgent, and congratulate yourself on a job well done as you tick tasks off the list. Realise that you do not need to finish everything, and enjoy the feeling of accomplishment from all the tasks you did. I guarantee you that in no-time the stress will disappear and you don’t want to do without a task list anymore!
By the way, if you don’t have the overview over all of your tasks, you will also, unconsciously, decide which ones you are not going to do. And that might bring you in undesirable and embarrassing situations!
“I have no idea where to start; my to-do list is so long.”
Yes, it always is too long! But here is the thing. Most of the tasks we put on our to-do lists are non-important tasks. I suggest you sit down for 30 minutes and you analyse your list, identifying the most important and urgent tasks. Tackle these first. Then plan time in your calendar for the not-so-urgent but still important tasks. Last, delete all tasks that are not important, even if they are urgent (and sometimes seem to be important)!
“Task lists make me inflexible.”
Only if you let them! It is your task list. You decide what to do and when to do it. You add the tasks you want to add, and delete those that are no longer relevant to you. That’s a lot of flexibility.
“I don’t need a task list. I can remember what I need to do.”
If this is true, then many congratulations! Remember, though, that brain capacity is limited. Very limited. In today’s fast-paced world, I suspect that you have a lot of balls to juggle. Using your brain as a list is rarely the best way to control your tasks – and it depletes the energy your brain needs to work on those tasks.
Isn’t it time you started using a task manager?
You want to achieve more and accomplish your goals. A task manager will prove to be an invaluable tool that helps do this. It enables you to stay in control of your work and personal tasks, prioritising them to move towards your goals faster. It empties your mind, helping you to focus on the task in hand. The benefits of using a task manager will help to boost your personal productivity.
In my next post, I will help you set up your task manager, so that you too can get all the benefits of a well-organised task manager.
Helping you achieve more,