I love to do lists as much as the next workaholic. List keeping is a great way to stay on track and to learn how to prioritize tasks, all while keeping a positive, forward momentum throughout the day, months or years. What can I say, crossing things off, or scribbling them proudly until no text remains, is satisfying!
We live in a multi-tasking centric society and, more of us probably forget to buy milk at the grocery store than we want to admit. Keeping lists of things we need to do is a great way to free up some of that working memory: write it down and access it later.
There are effective ways to keep to do lists and ineffective ways to keep them. Adding personal items to a work to do list can be distracting and deterring since the brain will cling to the, “odd man out” if you will. Break your tasks into separate lists and be clear about what’s what. I break mine up into during work and after work lists, or, into professional and personal.
List keeping is a great way to analyze how time is being spent and which things are more important. A lot of the time tasks get all jumbled up in our minds and seem a lot more overwhelming than they really are. Writing each one down and breaking it up into smaller, more manageable tasks is a great way to dispel anxiety and maintain a sense of control.
For example, “review so and so’s proposal” can be daunting, but when it’s broken up into sub categories such as, “call (person’s name) at 555-5555, and ask for the most recent copy this afternoon,” then “proof read for spelling errors,” then “proof read for grammatical mistakes,” then ” double check citations-” you get the idea. It may seem a little silly, but when we’re faced with many tasks like this every day; it can never hurt to make sure we’re thorough!
Humans like to finish what we start. Scientists and psychologists have studied these tendencies and found it to be a constant among humans, dubbing it the “Zeigarnik Effect.”A phenomenon where humans “experience intrusive thoughts about an objective that was once pursued and left incomplete.”
You’re probably shaking your head and thinking, “well, duh” but what if the Zeigarnik Effect effects us on a greater scale? I’m sure you’ve heard of a bucket list; a list of things one wishes to do before they, you know, kick the proverbial bucket. Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman made a movie in 2007 popularizing the bucket list, called aptly, The Bucket List, about two older men assessing how well they lived their lives based on the items and subsequent stories they have from crossing things off their bucket lists.
I found it to be very inspiring and went ahead to make one of my own. I strongly encourage you to do the same! And with things like, good list keeping, we can stay more in control over our personal and professional goals.
So, where and how do you start to learn a new language or put together a killer business proposal?
With smaller and smaller lists.