Why To-Do Lists Are So Powerful (And Why You Should Keep Them Short)
You’re making your way through the day–replying to emails, screening messages, and attending meetings–and before you know it, it’s time to end the day. Wait; what? Upon reflection, you haven't gotten round to addressing anything worth completing (i.e. your high-value activities)!
Sadly, with each day looking the same as the previous and blurring into the next, you can’t ever seem to get ahead in life.
Sounds all too familiar? Then you need to make a change, and it’s called a to-do list.
Why make a to-do list?
You might not realize it, but having to remember all the things you’re supposed to do, coupled with the all-too-real fear of missing out on something important, brings you great mental distress. And this is where doing up a to-do list can help. Think of it as an exercise similar to that of taking notes at a lecture. Because you need to filter external information, summarize it in your head, then write it down, you're better able to remember everything you need to accomplish.
As such, your brain is free to concentrate on getting things done, instead of getting stressed out about having to remember everything. Thus–increasing your productivity.
Helps you achieve big goals
Beyond achieving your daily tasks, a to-do list also helps you manage bigger, long-term goals. To illustrate this, let’s assume that you want to increase sales on your website. Because of how overwhelming this goal is, you don’t know where to start–and given how busy you are, it’s easy to procrastinate on it indefinitely. But this changes when you have a to-do list.
A to-do list allows you to break down your large goal into smaller parts. So, between your regular tasks, you can put in an entry for writing a blog post to drive traffic to your website, or crafting Facebook ads copy to target potential customers, for example. After a week, you'll find that you're slowly but surely making progress on your goal.
Keeps you motivated
Sometimes the problem isn’t remembering to get things done or even finding the time to do them. Instead, it’s about not feeling like it (read: you’re unmotivated). To remedy this, all you need is (of course) a to-do list. As you’ll soon find out, there’s something very real and satisfying about completing items and crossing them off.
When you experience even small amounts of success, your brain releases the neurohormone dopamine, which is connected to feelings of pleasure, learning, and motivation. When you experience the feel-good effects of dopamine, you’ll be eager to repeat the actions that resulted in that success in the first place (aka crossing more items off your to-do list).
That said, keep your list short
It can be tempting to turn 5 bullet points into 10, and then 10 into 20, on your to-do list. The more you put down, the more you'll accomplish, right? Well, no. The truth is that a long list can ruin your sense of control and become a source of stress and frustration. To harness the full power of the to-do list, keep it short, so it'll be easier for you to focus on what you really need to do.
How short? As a general guideline, your to-do list should have no more than 5 items on it. That’s why the Daily Routine Journal only has space for your top 5 to-do tasks daily–you need to be sure that each item you’re working on is indeed helping you progress on your long-term goals. Check out how our customers have changed their lives for the better with to-do lists here.