Whether you're up to your knees with tasks at work or drowning with homework from school, it is safe to assume that everyone, at least once in their lives, has thought about creating a to-do list. But is it worth it? Do they actually make things easier or do they just make things seem more overwhelming?
The truth is ambiguous — it can make things both easier and harder.
In other words, there is no definitive answer to this question. For some people, making a to-do list could serve as a useful organizational tool. For others, it could be the cause for added stress and anxiety. It really boils down to the user and his/her attitude towards a large amount of work.
Here are some ways to-do lists could be detrimental to your productivity and health.
1. A long list could be overwhelming.
Seeing a mile-long list of things to accomplish could be disheartening and cause the user to lose focus, compromising his/her productivity. It’s very possible for you to focus too much on how long the list is and too little on how to shorten it — it might not be too difficult! This could cause you to get caught in the action and not get anything done at all.
2. The list might only enumerate the tasks and not their level of importance.
Most to-do lists are just full of task titles and descriptions. Many times people don’t bother noting down the deadline and level of difficulty. People are then left wondering why they’re still pulling all-nighters when they've listed down everything they need to do. When the task has to be finished and how long it takes to finish it are major factors in compartmentalizing your deliverables that often are neglected.
3. You don't get to celebrate the small victories.
At the end of the day, you may find yourself puzzled as to why you’re so tired yet barely crossed off anything in your list. It would be so easy for you to take this against yourself and your capabilities, resulting in an unmotivated and depressed state of mind. In these situations, you are forgetting that not finishing the task doesn’t mean no progress was made. Not being able to cross off the entry on your to-do list does not mean your efforts were a waste. It is important to celebrate the small victories because it reminds you of why you want to keep going down that mile-long list, one step at a time. Seeing the success in the little things keeps you on the right track.
On the other hand, there are definitely many ways that to-do lists could be useful in maximizing your productivity while maintaining a calm and collected disposition towards your workload.
1. You'll remember everything.
Listing down tasks as soon as they’re given can really ensure that no task will be forgotten. Even if it slips your mind, once you glance at your to-do list you’ll see the task and remember to do it. Say goodbye to all those times your boss asked you for the report that you’re “putting the finishing touches on," or telling your teacher your dog ate your homework.
2. Lists help you prioritize.
Assigning deadlines to tasks could help you prioritize and schedule your work. Your time may be better spent working on a difficult task due in a week than a fairly easy task due in 4 days. Of course, it really depends on you to manage your schedule best, but a to-do list could help when deadlines are included.
3. You paint a roadmap to the finish line.
It is so satisfying to cross off that last item on your to-do list. However, the road getting there may not be so clear. Maybe in your head the amount of things to do could be too much or possibly even too little. Breaking your goals into smaller, more achievable tasks lights the way to your destination and a clear path would make the journey a lot easier.
Again, there is no definitive answer on whether or not to-do lists are helpful. It all comes down to how you use it and what your work ethic is like. If to-do lists complement your work ethic, go for it! If not, it may be better to avoid them.
If you do choose to make a to-do list, how do you ensure it’s as effective as it can be? Simple! Just follow these 5 steps:
1. List down tasks as soon as they're given to you.
Updating your list as soon as a new deliverable comes around provides you with a sense of security as you know you’re on top of all your deadlines. You won’t have to waste time worrying about forgetting a task because you’ve already taken note of it. You can spend your time crossing off things on the list rather than worrying about things that might not be on the list.
2. Include deadlines and take note of how much time you would need to complete each task.
Taking note of the deadlines and level of difficulty of each task, you can more efficiently distribute your attention and effort to each task. Doing so will allow you to go through your list in the most effective way possible, barely breaking a sweat!
3. Strive to make progress through the list each day.
The difference between a goal and a dream is that you work to reach your goal. Listing down your tasks aren’t enough — you have to aim to have even a little progress everyday.
4. Give yourself time to relax, because you deserve it.
Though you should aim to progress through the list everyday, it is also important to rest, eat, sleep, and spend time with your friends and family. Also, taking a break every now and then would help you be more productive when you get back to the deliverables on your list.
5. Cross out a task as soon as you're finished with it.
Nothing beats the feeling of accomplishment that comes when you cross off a task. Why waste it all in one go? As soon as you finish a task, cross it out and savor every moment of it!
Following these five steps would help make your to-do list fit your work habits and attitudes and make you as efficient and stress-free as you can be. Just make sure to evaluate whether the to-do list you create is actually helping you be more efficient and stress-free.