Do you make To-Do Lists? I love them. I affectionately call them TTDs (Things To Do), and they are scattered around my house like autumn leaves on a windy day.
Research shows that making a To Do List is actually good for your brain. Many people feel a great sense of relief simply by writing items on a list – without even crossing anything off it at all.
But do you fill page after page with massive, heart-stopping tasks? Do you write things illegibly on tiny scraps of paper that you then proceed to lose? Do you post sticky notes all over the wall, fridge, and computer screen til your world resembles a scene from the movie A Beautiful Mind? Do you attempt to rely on your smartphone, daydreaming longingly of the tactile satisfaction you experienced a decade ago when you used pen and paper?
How do we avoid these pitfalls? Here are 3 simple ways:
1) Keeping tasks specific and realistic can be difficult given that most projects require many steps in order to be completed. But if you want your list to be helpful, break your tasks down into bite-sized bits. Your brain will thank you.
If you are a person who tends to create massive lists with large projects that will take a lot of time to complete (that would be me), keep a master list going and keep a daily running list short. Keep that master list in an easy-to-reach, visible place. But each morning, create a short daily list (3 to 6 tasks), breaking those large projects into small, concrete steps.
For some people, this may be a good way to use your handheld device to assist you (my friend Cheryl from MeadowMist Designs recommends an IPhone app called Wunderlist). This way, you can add to your master list while you’re on the go. Create a master list on your handheld device, and create your short, realistic daily lists on paper. It’s the best of both worlds.
2) Assign a time of day and length of time for each task. We often procrastinate if we glance at an item on our list, and feel overwhelmed by the enormous, vague threat of it. Research shows that To Do Lists are infinitely more effective if you assign a time of day and a length of time to a particular task (hmmm… this sounds a lot like the old-fashioned Day-Timers of the past, doesn’t it? Maybe you need a Quilter’s Planner for 2017!)
3) Rank the 3 most important tasks of the day. Let’s face it. Most of us WILL NOT accomplish everything on our list every day. So quit jerking yourself around. It’s just not feasible. But we probably can choose 3 very important things that if accomplished, will move our minds and our lives forward, releasing us from the dismal analysis paralysis that so many of us face each day.
One More To-Do List Pitfall
There are times when an uncompleted item on a To Do List can weigh heavily, interfering with the ability to do the other things on the list.
In doing a little research, I learned that this effect is common. It’s called the Zeigarnik Effect and it was discovered by a Russian, Jewish female psychologist way back in the 1920s (how cool is that?!?!) . It turns out that people remember and think about unfinished tasks significantly more than completed ones.
When you cross something off your list, it’s like you’ve released it from your mind, letting it flutter away with a happy flock of other little tasks that made up your day.
I hope this is helpful, friends.