Productivity, time management, work-life balance – these words are almost cliché for the type of life we hope to have. We think, if we only had one more hour in the day or I wish there were two of me to get everything done. We hope and pray for things to change and in the meantime, we continue to bury ourselves deeper and deeper into a never-ending hold of “must-dos.”

Take back control of your day with these five undeniable benefits of keeping lists.

1. It Reduces Anxiety

Multiple studies show that transferring emotions, mental checklists and worries from our brain to paper allows our brain to “throw away” those thoughts and focus on something else. By having a list in front of you, you can ease the worry and stress that comes with trying to juggle all the things you need to remember at the same time.

2. It Allows for Realistic To-Dos

When we’re overwhelmed with too many tasks, instead of prioritizing, we tend to try and accomplish all the tasks at the same time. History tells us we’re not actually very good at multi-tasking and usually we end up failing at all the tasks and ultimately feel more overwhelmed than before. Try writing down a daily to-do list. Calculate how much time each task will take you and realistically assign yourself a day’s worth. Don’t think about the rest. Leave them until tomorrow while you tackle today’s tasks with renewed energy.

3. We Become Better Problem Solvers

Creating lists is solving a problem in and of itself. When you organize your list based on time and priority, you’re allowing your brain to focus on one thing at a time—solving that one before moving on. Our brain is like a muscle. Train it to tackle problems quickly and efficiently every day and soon it will become a habit.

4. It Teaches Us When to Walk Away

It’s hard to peel yourself from the desk when there is always just one more thing to do. By assigning and completing a reasonable number of tasks and then leaving the rest for tomorrow, we allow our brain and body a chance to recharge and take on the new day.

Being productive doesn’t mean working 24/7. It means working smarter and harder to achieve your goals and keep pushing forward to the new day. But it also means taking a break and living the life that you working so hard to earn. Take a moment and, as the saying goes, “stop and smell the roses.”

5. It Allows Us Small Victories

Nothing is quite so satisfying as crossing a to-do item off your list. Some experts even recommend writing down tasks you just completed so you can have the satisfaction of crossing it off. Indulge yourself in the small celebrations. After all, each task means you’re that much closer to your short- and long-term goals.

Productivity isn’t a science and it’s definitely not a one-size-fits-all. But starting daily lists is an easy and quick way to boost productivity, lessen anxiety and achieve the ever-elusive dream of work-life balance.


William Lipovsky owns the personal finance website First Quarter Finance. His most embarrassing moment was telling a Microsoft executive, "I'll just Google it."

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