The fact is that we remember things better when we write them down. It is, in essence, encoding information into our brain. Our brain isn’t screaming at us to create a plan. When you write something down it stops swirling in your unconscious brain looking for a place to land.
One of the secrets to time management is the task list. You can use a task app, project management software, or good old pen and paper. Here are some interesting stats on how professionals in the workforce use to-do lists:
- About 63% of professionals use a to-do list according to 2012 LinkedIn survey
- According to a 2015 Wrike Survey, 70% of workers know what to-dos they are going to work on when their day begins.
These are great statistics. A majority of professionals are planning and prioritizing which limits distractions and increases productivity. The below benefits will reinforce the majority choice when it comes to making a to-list.
If you are resistant to lists, let’s dispel some myths:
You will one day complete your list
Your master list will never be done. It is a living document that you will continuously add items as you live your life. Can you imagine how boring life would be if we didn’t have anything to do? Embrace this fact and I guarantee you will reduce your stress level.
41% of the tasks that are on a task list are completed. An even more astounding number is that 50% of the tasks that are completed are done within a day or two. There are two lessons here. The first is that we put anything and everything on our task list, and we should be more considerate of what goes on there. The second is that we aren’t managing our list in an efficient manner. If you’ve listed everything cross off what you aren’t going to do. It may take a couple of days to realize it doesn’t need to be done.
It takes too much time to make a list
Yes, it does take time to sit down and write out all you have to do. You may even need to organize your list if you have many important tasks to complete. When you are in crisis mode the 20 minutes this may take to complete seems like an eternity and a waste of time.
A good workaround if you don’t have time for a detailed list is to only list your high-level tasks and projects. This should take a few minutes and when you don’t know what to do next you can look at your shortlist to keep on the project schedule.
Another benefit of a task list is that it reduces decision fatigue. As the day goes on the quality of our decisions deteriorates. Creating a list on paper or with a mobile app means you have already made the decision about where you were going to spend your time.
To-do lists are overwhelming
If seeing all you have to do at once sends you into a well of anxiety, keep a smaller list of 3-5 items you will work on throughout the day. Kanban boards are a great way to manage an unwieldy master list. It is easy to categorize your list and only focus on one section at a time.
If you are overwhelmed by your list it may be time to learn how to delegate effectively. You still need to follow up on delegated work, but if you delegate effectively you will be able to focus on the high priority tasks.
When delegating don’t forget to assign a due date. Consider giving the delegatee a deadline that is a little sooner than the actual deadline so you have time to review the work.
If you are a team leader it would be wise to create a project plan that lists all the tasks with notes on who you are delegating tasks to. You could use project management software to help you keep track or Google Sheets and Excel are options as well.
I have a great memory. I don’t need a list.
To-do lists are a way to get it out of your head, clear the brain, and be more present. If you are constantly trying to remember what needs to be done how will you have the mental power to think about the high priority project?
When you create a task list by writing a project plan you save time by not having to sort through your mental database. There is an experience curve to writing down the tasks that pop into your head, but a good task management app allows you to add items with ease. Many apps have a learning curve too, but you can always use free trials until you find the right task management app for you.
Creating a list also allows for team collaboration. You can’t collaborate if you don’t know what is on the agenda. Many task management apps have web browser access as well so you can access your tasks via a web page.
If you run the same types of projects over and over, consider creating a project plan template to automate your task management system.
A to-do list may not be for everyone, but for most, it will help clear the fog, reduce decision fatigue, and get you moving in the right direction. Remember, you don’t have to complete everything you write down. We need a resting place for our ideas and eventually, maybe one day we will cross it off the list.
If you are struggling to manage your lists grab this free Trello template. It will help you manage your list and time block your schedule to rev up your productivity.