Lists!!! Need I say more? I love lists. I love everything about them but nothing more than crossing off completed tasks. Lists have benefits that go beyond the reward of checking items off. They are beneficial in keeping us organized and on track, which can ease our minds and reduce stress. Here are some tips (in list form of course) for using lists effectively.
1. The list shouldn't be more important than the items on it.
Procrastinators, this might resonate with you! If you make a list to delay doing the tasks on the list, you may be engaging in avoidance. Creating the list is not the accomplishment, finishing the items on the list is. To make progress, the list should act as a guide and a reminder of what is on the agenda for a specific time period. Only a small proportion of time need be devoted to the creation of your list.
Lists often include everything we need to complete. Make the list more powerful and prioritize the items. Color code, use symbols or rank from high to low priority. Make a deal with yourself that for every hour you spend on a high priority task (may be less desirable to do), you can spend 30 minutes on a more enjoyable but less priority item.
3. Make master lists with subcategories.
Having more than one list can be effective to both prioritize and organize. When tasks are grouped into lists, we compartmentalize our needs and organize our minds, resulting in less stress. Large projects can be overwhelming so breaking the tasks down into smaller chunks (additional lists) prevents being overwhelmed and anxiety.
Having one To-Do list for the home and one for work can help separate things and keep us on task. We can break our “Home” list down further with subcategories for grocery shopping, errands and house maintenance. Again, the point is not to spend all our time making lists. Make a few master lists that you can add on to and reuse.
4. Make lists interactive.
Some phone applications (such as Trello) have excellent features for categorizing, notifying, scheduling and archiving. One particularly practical function is the ability to share lists with others. Shared lists update selected contacts and delegates tasks to specific members. This is a lifesaver when grocery shopping with a list shared between family members, because when someone buys something, they check it off and update the family’s list instantaneously.
Interactivity can be done on a blackboard or whiteboard too. Anything where a group of people can share in the process of adding and removing tasks is sufficient.
5. Use lists to lighten cognitive load.
A busy life is stressful on its own but the toll it takes on our quality of life is exacerbated if we ruminate about unfinished tasks for fear of forgetting to do them. Trying to remember what to do and when puts a strain on us mentally. There are two simple ways to lighten the load:
- Keep a notepad beside your bed and jot down items for the following day so you can set the thoughts aside. If something pops into mind, write it down as a reminder. Commit to leaving the errands, tasks and worries on the list. You can pick them up the next day. Tackle the items in the morning following a good night's sleep to increase productivity.
- A list can be an effective way to leave work at work. Make a list before you sign off for the day. Include unfinished tasks, phone calls or emails from the current workday. Let the list do the remembering for you so the mental reminders don’t follow you home.
6. Try something new.
Change it up! Alternate between scrawling lists on scrap paper and more formalized options. If a list needs to be intricate, use a digital list-making tool. Some other options are visual reminders placed on a large whiteboard or the mirror of our bathrooms, sticky notes, and visual lists created through the process of chaining or laddering.
Having a variety of options can spice up the list making experience and entice us to stick with it.
Lists are a common tool people use to organize, plan, track and work toward goals. If done correctly they can minimize stress and maximize efficiency.