Do you know what I did before writing this article?
I wrote an outline. Which means I planned all the main points I would go through in the article. This way I made it a lot easier and faster to write the whole post.
Planning your day may seem like a waste of time, but it’s not. As a matter of fact, my most productive days were those in which I had a clear to-do list and I knew everything I would have to accomplish.
Typically I like to create to-do lists at night, just before bed, so as soon as I wake up the following day I can read it and take action immediately. Some people prefer to write them in the morning, but that doesn’t work for me (I’d be too sleepy to plan anything).
Whether you have two or twenty tasks, I guarantee writing them down in advance will make everything easier. Let’s have a look at the eight benefits of creating a to-do list.
1. You have more free time
When you create a to-do list you will almost always have more free time.
Why? Because you’ll accomplish those tasks faster. By being clear on what you have to do, you will eliminate distractions and you won’t waste precious time.
Also, since on most days you’ll have to accomplish multiple tasks, you won’t spend too much time on each. If your to-do list has ten items, would it make sense to spend, say, five hours on just one of them?
Of course, this depends on how important a particular task is, or how difficult it is. Sometimes you do have to spend a lot of time on something, which is why each day you should have a priority.
When you write the list, I encourage you to write your most important task at the top. Conversely, those activities that aren’t urgent can be written at the bottom of the list. Once you have crossed off the main task(s) you may even decide to postpone the others.
Creating a to-do list means optimizing your day, which results in more productivity, more efficiency, and more free time.
2. You feel proud
Whenever we accomplish something, our brain produces a chemical called dopamine. The beauty of this is it doesn’t have to be the greatest accomplishment: it could be just a simple task.
This is one of the reasons some people find video games so addictive: beating a boss, or unlocking a new level, or whatever bonus the developers came up with, isn’t even real, however it creates a sense of accomplishment.
The good news is you can create a similar reaction whenever you cross off your tasks. It’s very satisfying, and the more you do it, the better it feels.
Have you ever had a day in which you accomplished a lot yet you didn’t feel proud? Creating a to-do list may help you realize that everything you do has a purpose. So when you do have the discipline to stick to your plan and put in the time, cross that task off and get your dose of dopamine (and yes, there’s better ways to increase dopamine — this is just a little trick).
3. You won’t forget anything
Honestly, how often do we forget what we are supposed to do?
Typically, this happens because subconsciously our mind avoids anything we don’t like, or anything we consider boring and repetitive, such as studying, working, or exercising.
It could also happen simply because you are very busy: it’s easy to remember one or two tasks, but what about a whole list? That’s quite difficult, right?
So from this day forward I encourage you to never trust your memory, and write down everything you are supposed to do, or want to do. Once you create a to-do list, you won’t need to remember anything! Just make sure you keep your sheet of paper at hand (or your phone, if you used a note app).
4. It eliminates distractions
A phone call. A friend asking for a favor. An annoying ad. Five new notifications. An email from a colleague. That funny cat video you forgot to watch last night.
In today’s world, it’s incredibly easy to get distracted and lose time without even realizing it. But when you put all your tasks on paper, you give your mind direction, no matter what happens during the day.
Plus, as we’ve seen at the beginning of this article, when you create a list you know you’ll automatically have more free time. So it makes sense to spend the first part of the day accomplishing those tasks as quickly as possible, so you can then enjoy some well-deserved time off (and watch that funny cat video).
You may think there’s nothing wrong with answering a text message, or having a quick conversation with a friend, and that’s true. The problem is, if it happens multiple times a day, how much time will you waste? One hour? Three hours?
That’s why I encourage you to keep your list at hand, and avoid such distractions until later.
5. You find out what’s possible
Sometimes it’s easy to underestimate the time it will take to accomplish a task. Or, it may be the opposite: we think what we want to do is too time-consuming, but in reality it only takes half an hour.
The fifth benefit of creating a to-do list is that you find out what’s actually possible to do in a day. There is no point in having unrealistic goals: by tracking your productivity and measuring what you can accomplish in, say, six hours, you understand what you should or shouldn’t try to do.
Similarly, you find out the time it takes to do something — and if you want to find out the exact time, you could even write the number of minutes it took you next to each item in your list.
If you go through your list in the evening, and it turns out you spent too much time or energy doing something trivial, it may be sensible to find a different way to do it, or perhaps stop doing it altogether. Your resources are limited, so you shouldn’t waste them.
6. It can be your diary
If you create a to-do list almost every day, and you write the date on each list, then potentially they could turn into a diary.
You may prefer to throw away your list as soon as you’re done, and that’s fine — it probably feels good too. However keeping the to-do lists you created gives you the opportunity to have a look at them in the future. Here are some of the possible benefits of that:
- You will likely be amazed at how much you’ve accomplished in a week, month, or year
- As explained earlier, you may find out you spent too much time doing something unimportant, and decide to never do that again
- You will feel proud simply because you had the discipline to write a list (almost) every day, regardless of what you accomplished
- You will be able to check the exact day you started a particular project
- If there’s a task you keep postponing, you will definitely notice it
If journaling isn’t your thing, consider keeping your to-do lists (you’ll be able to throw them away as soon as you change your mind).
7. You have more fun
Here’s the thing: to-do lists aren’t just for work. When you create your list, you can put anything you want in it, including having dinner at a nice restaurant.
If you find it daunting to look at a long list of boring tasks, try to add some enjoyable activities to it, so you can be more motivated. It’s hard to do work if there’s no instant reward, so write down what you’re supposed to do and what you want to do the following day.
For example, after a day at the office, you may want to reward yourself by watching a movie; after a long workout, you may want to eat your favorite snack; once you have accomplished a difficult task, you could call a friend, and so on.
Or, you may even choose to write two separate lists: one for your tasks, and one for everything you want to do in your free time (if that’s the case, it’s probably better to do it weekly rather than daily, but feel free to experiment).
8. It gives you a reason to get out of bed
The final benefit of creating a to-do list is that it gives you at least one more reason to get out of bed every morning.
If your mind believes you have nothing to do, then waking up early will be super hard. This is particularly true if you suffer from depression, or if you are going through a tough time.
When you create a to-do list the night before, you are telling your brain that the following day has a purpose, so chances are you’ll find it easier to fall asleep and then wake up at a certain time.
As I mentioned earlier, our brain releases a chemical called dopamine whenever we feel we’ve accomplished something. This usually happens after we’ve crossed off one of the tasks, however when you simply write them down you still create a sense of anticipation, so you’ll feel happier already.
Remember: there’s no need to create an endless list, especially if you’re feeling a bit low. Sometimes writing a single sentence is all it takes to increase your motivation and boost your productivity.
Benefits of to-do lists: final thoughts
When you create to-do lists, feel free to experiment to see what works best for you.
You may decide to assign a time to each task; you may find that having just two main tasks every day works better than having a lot; you may use an app, or a sheet of paper, or even a whiteboard; you may want to create a shorter to-do list every day, or a longer one every Sunday night.
Planning the following day in advance has helped me in a lot of ways. Now, whenever there’s an important event, or a day in which I’ll be super busy, I feel I have to create a list, otherwise I’d feel overwhelmed.
Thank you for reading this post! Do you use to-do lists, and do you find them useful? Let me know by leaving a reply below 👇