In an article for FastCompany.com, Art Markman points out that “there are at least three psychological benefits to the simple act of drawing up a list of top-priority tasks—whether or not you actually accomplish them.
Writing Makes Your Memory’s Job Easier
Keeping a list of tasks you need to perform is like taking notes when you’re reading a book or listening to a lecture. When you take notes, you need to filter external information, summarize it in your head, and then write it down. Many studies have shown that note taking helps us distill the information we hear and remember it better than we would if we’d just heard or read it. . . .
Your brain decides which pieces of information to hang onto for later, partly as a result of how much work you do to them up front—so the more you mentally manipulate a piece of information, the better you’ll remember it. That’s why it’s sometimes surprisingly easy to remember what’s on your to-do list even when you aren’t looking at it.
Planning Turns Abstract Goals into Concrete Work
For most people, the challenge at work isn’t keeping busy hour by hour or day to day, it’s making sure we get the big-picture projects done that make work fulfilling. These are often broad, abstract goals that you hope to achieve over a period of weeks or months. The problem, though, is that they’re hard to achieve without breaking them into a coherent set of concrete actions you can take on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. . . .
As you think through these smaller tasks, other steps will often occur to you—some that you hadn’t originally envisioned needing to take when you first set your overarching goal. They weren’t obvious until you actually thought about everything it would take to reach it. So even if your agenda changes in practice as you work toward your objective, the process of thinking ahead about the steps involved can help prime you to do the work ahead.
It Helps You Clear the Weeds You Couldn’t See
To-do lists go unfinished for lots of reasons. Workplaces are distracting and full of unforeseen events. The daily flow of email and team messaging tools regularly threaten to drown out other activities—and that’s not to mention the meetings you’re constantly getting pulled into.
But once you write down the tasks you need to perform, you then have to clear space in your day to put some of those tasks onto your calendar. This calendar maintenance is itself a useful exercise for fighting the tide of interruptions you’re always facing. It pulls your brain out of a reactive mode and forces you to think about the long term. Plan your to-do activities a few weeks ahead when your calendar still has some blank spaces in it. Add in time for the tasks that are crucial for achieving those long-term goals.” [Read the full article here]