Why We Love The To-Do List - Deepstash

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The psychology of the to-do list – why your brain loves ordered tasks

Why We Love The To-Do List

Why We Love The To-Do List

The To-Do list is almost a sacred technique of organizing your day and eventually your life. They lessen the day’s anxiety, provide a structure to power-through and are written proof of our productivity.

As the Zeigarnik Effect proves, we obsess over unfinished tasks and remember stuff which is incomplete or pending. The To-Do list comes to the rescue and saves us from a lot of stress.

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Dealing with to-do lists

The common struggles to conquer our to-do lists:

  • 41% of to­-do items are never completed.
  • 50% of completed to-­do items are done within a day.
  • 18% of completed to­-do ite...
Too many to-do's

Most of us put way too much stuff on our lists. And that puts us on the path to failure.

Overstuffing our lists causes a continuous thrum of worry in our heads. And the worry that results from having too many conflicting goals causes our productivity as well as our physical and mental health to suffer.

How we're making to-do lists

We're just not good at constructing our to-do lists. It's not as simple as it looks. 

Many of us aren't any good at formulating the tasks on the list, failing to think through steps and plans, so that when we're faced with too many tasks and too few suggestions on how to proceed, we don't complete tasks. Remember that the to-do list string around your finger is for you to make better plans using the list.

1. Time-Blocking

Time-blocking consists of assigning individual tasks to manageable time slots.

Instead of writing out short tasks alongside hours-long tasks on your list for the day and hoping you ha...

2. If/then Lists

To set reasonable goals make a list for high-energy days and another for when you are reluctant to work. Both lists should follow an “if/then” model.

The first lists should have the more involved tasks, while the second list should feature more mindless tasks like cleaning out your inbox, organizing your desk, or even napping.

3. Eisenhower Matrix
An Eisenhower Matrix breaks a to-do list into the four categories below:
  1. Has items that are both urgent and important, is to be tackled immediately.
  2. Items that are important but not urgent, can be scheduled for a later time.
  3. Tasks deemed urgent but not important can be delegated to others if possible
  4. Tasks that are neither urgent nor important should be crossed off the list altogether.
The brain is obsessed with unfinished tasks
The brain is obsessed with unfinished tasks

When we have unfinished tasks, we think about them continuously. But the moment they are completed, we forget about them. If we have unread email, we constantly wonder what it says. But once it...

Incomplete tasks: What happens inside the brain

Once our brain receives information, it temporarily stores sensory memory (sight, hearing, smells, taste, and touch). If we pay attention to the information, it moves to our short-term memories.

If the task is incomplete, our brains can't let it go until it's done. That is why TV dramas use cliffhangers to end episodes.

How to capitalize on the Zeigarnik effect
  • Reduce your tendency to procrastinate. If you have a task you've been avoiding, begin with the smallest thing to be done. The desire to close the loop will help you take small steps to get it done.
  • Get people to take note of what you're saying. Try using ellipses instead of a full stop in your headline so that your reader will feel like "there's more to this."
  • Memorize more information. Break your information up into parts. Or spread your learning over several days.
  • Remember difficult names. Learn one part of the name, then come back to the second part when your done memorizing the first.