Why We Continue to Rely on (and Love) To-Do Lists - Deepstash
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The science behind to-do lists

The science behind to-do lists

Consider it done! is a research paper written by E. J. Masicampo and Roy F. Baumeister. The authors state that once we commit to a particular plan of action to complete a task, we think less about that task.

We have, on average, about 15 ongoing goals and projects at any given time, each goal with its own set of milestones. We also know unfinished goals can be a burden, so we offload them onto a to-do list. We feel relieved from the need to hold on to it mentally. 


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The benefits and disadvantages of to-do lists

To-do lists are effective to keep us aware of our goals. Simply maintaining awareness of our goals helps us to feel disciplined.

But there is a downside too. To-do lists are not enough to help us commit to the work. A to-do list can be a way of postponing work. It is too easy to constantly order the easiest work while the more complex or undesirable tasks stay on the list. This happens because we don't specify when and how to do it.


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Why we feel that to-do lists help

When we plan to complete a task, 

  • we ease the stress we may feel to remind ourselves that we need to constantly do this thing.
  • we have to figure out what actions we need to take to finish the task and how and when to do them.

When we imagine the plan, it seems easier and likelier to happen. Even if we have not started on it, we feel we know how to attain success.


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How to manage to-do lists

Making a to-do list takes effort, so use one for new and difficult tasks, not for daily tasks like clearing your inbox or getting dressed.

It is useful to move more of your tasks into the "automatic" space so that you need to spend less effort thinking about them. The key is to establish routines. If something is showing up regularly on your to-do list, it may be because you find it effortful.


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Inspire yourself

Make the things you do more fun, such as listening to a podcast while you jog.

Remind yourself why you are doing this important work. For example, instead of putting off your research project, think of the people you will help.


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