Behavior Of The Week: Do Your To-Do List

Creating a to-do list is one of the simplest habits to take up but the impact can be profound. Taking the time to organize the items you wish to accomplish in a day can lead to practical benefits, in the form of increased productivity as well as the physiological value of feeling more organized. However, despite the ease and simplicity of starting a to-do list, there are clear best practices to follow and pitfalls to avoid.

A 2011 article by Masicampo and Baumeister in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology cited research that college students pursue an average of 15 goals at any one time. In a series of experiments that demonstrated the benefit of having a specific plan of action and completing tasks, Masicampo and Baumeister concluded that getting tasks off the agenda “can free cognitive resources for other tasks,” improving overall performance.

There is a lively debate about the value of to-do lists, but most writers seem to agree that an effective to-do list doesn’t clutter your mind with too many things to do, but rather clears it by letting you get things done and off your mind. In other words, their real value emerges when you complete tasks on the list, and therefore short lists that can be completed are the most useful. Lists of 3-5 items that can be done in a day or other specified time frame may work best for you.

There is no correct place to keep a to-do list. Some individuals prefer the tactile experience of writing a list on paper as well as the sense of satisfaction that comes from crossing each item off one-by-one. Others prefer to take advantage modern technology. Keeping a to-do list on a computer or smartphone makes it possible to access it from anywhere and across multiple platforms.

Having a to-do list is important, but it’s more important to do what is on it. Successful professionals are effective managers of that very precious resource—their own time. For students, studying effectively requires that you use time wisely. The time-honored to-do list is an essential tool for seasoned professionals, students, anyone who understands the importance of time management.

If you don’t keep a to-do list, then why not start today. The benefits may surprise you. If you’re already a to-do list master, keep up the good work and check in next week for a new target behavior.