Author: Lote Steina
We hear productivity gurus and life coaches talk endlessly about the importance of time and finance management, effective organization, increases in productivity etc. The fact of the matter is that these words have become so omnipresent and overused that they resemble buzz words more than anything else. Really – how much can people bear listening only about the desirable results without being discouraged or frustrated?
In this Blog we do our best to outline both the desirable end result and the necessary steps to get to that state. Nevertheless, there are probably some for whom taking even the first steps towards budgeting, greener lifestyle, or continued education may be an energy sapping uphill battle.
In this blog post I will outline the simplest thing you can do to make a meaningful change in your life – make lists. Don’t believe me? Some of the most successful productivity consultants such as Stephen Covey, Ryder Carroll, and David Allen have created their own methods to guide people towards a better organized life. Guess what’s the very first step in all of their methods! That’s right – making a list.
Read through this blog post and find out why lists should be a staple of your everyday life regardless of whether you are trying to achieve a goal, form a new habit, or successfully do an important task.
One of the reasons people are stressed out these days is that we are drowning in an unceasing stream of information. There is so much to absorb, remember, and do that our brains often feel overwhelmed.
Relying solely on your brain is awfully inefficient for a number of reasons: first, no matter how good you think your memory is, you will end up forgetting or misremembering something. Our brains are fascinating tools, but precise and reliable information storage unfortunately is not their strong suite. Write down facts, dates, names etc. to avoid mishaps, mistakes, or just uncomfortable situations (like forgetting a relative’s birthday).
Second, trying to remember everything keeps your brain running in overdrive. This can lead to increased stress and anxiety as you try not to forget something. I myself have had many sleepless nights because overusing my brain throughout the day leaves it over-stimulated and unable to shut down normally. You know what happens if you are stressed out and haven’t slept? You forget things!
Third, lists are just nice and well-organized. The opposite is clutter which happens when we have too much stuff to deal with in one place. Excessive clutter (both of the physical and mental sort) makes us unable to think clearly, not to mention contributes to stress and low energy.
Finally and tied to the other points, relying solely on your brain risks making you more likely to miss great opportunities and offers. Missing a job application deadline or a really good limited time discount offer is sure to make you grumpy. If that happens frequently and for long enough, it might make you into a not too happy camper, to put it mildly.
So make lists and save yourself a lot of headache!
The case for compiling lists is pretty straightforward – making them requires little time and very few skills. Meanwhile the return on investment is huge in terms of structure, quality, information retention, time management, and overall organization. Here are a couple of tips to make the most out of your listing experience:
Avoid big chunks of text and stay concise with your definitions. This will make it easier to keep track of information. It is important to note the most important details (dates, names, sums, phone numbers etc.). Your brain will recall the rest or know where to find additional information given the right bullet points. For example “write an essay for ANTH-101 (DL: March 3)” is a great list entry as it conveys the necessary information. You’ll know which syllabus, website, or person to consult for more information.
Don’t limit yourself to a single list. You can make lists about practically anything. This is great as you can reap the benefits in all areas of life. My suggestion, for the purposes of better organization, is to make a number of different lists (a to-do list, a shopping list, a book-list, a travel destination list and so on). This way you’ll avoid a single unwieldy list that mixes together “buy potatoes” with “do taxes”.
Use a digital solution. Having a list is already a major improvement. However, taking an extra step will yield even better results. Since lists can also be long, it is always a good idea to filter information according to different metrics. For example, write down the task, its deadline, the involved people, location (if applicable), and other information in different columns. That way you’ll be able to filter and sort information easily and never miss a thing.
Devise a priority system. Adding to the previous point, it may be useful to devise a priority system. Not all list entries have the same deadlines. Neither are all of them of the same importance and take the same amount of time. I suggest categorizing them accordingly, so that the really important things (for example, category “1” or “A”) are not missed and done in time.
We’ve all heard of dopamine – that nice little chemical in our brains that influences our mood, feelings, and motivation. In simple terms, it is the “feel good” chemical that is strongly associated with pleasure and reward.
So how does dopamine play into all of this? Just like we produce dopamine when we indulge in certain activities or reward ourselves with an occasional treat, we can get our mental and physical gratification by getting things done.
Lists are really helpful for two reasons.
First, you always have a handy list of tasks near you. Whenever you feel like doing something, you don’t have to spend energy trying to remember things that need to be done. The problem with trying to remember something is that we tend to recall the important, time-consuming tasks first, which can discourage us from doing anything. A list, on the other, hand would contain all sorts of things, including some easy-to-do tasks.
Second, striking things off a list is just a very rewarding and nice feeling. Whether you do it digitally (erasing the entry or changing its status) or just strike it off a sheet of paper, your brain will react positively. This, in turn, will motivate you to do even more.
Let me illustrate how these two points reinforce one another. For example, you wake up and feel a bit down. You know you have to get moving and do something, but it’s difficult when all that seems to be on your mind is a 20-page report you have to prepare in 3 days. So you take out your trusty list and see that there are entries like “take out the trash”, “pay the phone bill”, “order a birthday present for your mom”. You muster your strengths and do all of them in short order. This gives you a feeling of accomplishment and you feel like doing more. You see a couple of medium effort things on your list like “fix the leaky tap” or “go for a 10k run”. You do those. Once you are done, you’ll be so pumped up with that achievement dopamine, that the 20-page report will seem like a breeze. In addition, while doing all these things, you will probably come up with some new things to replenish your list with.
Bad habits are formed almost effortlessly. Not so with good ones. As we have outlined, it takes a lot of time and effort to make a good habit stick. Lists can help you out with that.
Like with the previous point, dopamine plays a big role here. Whether it is smoking, drinking, unhealthy eating, sedentary lifestyle – all of these contain actions that offer instant gratification. Conversely, good habits tend to bring positive emotions and gratification over a longer term. Lists can help offset this by producing feelings of accomplishment once tasks tied to a particular good habit are carried out. To add to this feeling of accomplishment, reward yourself with a small treat any time a task linked to a goal or habit is finished. That way good habits will form just as easily as bad ones.
If after all of the aforementioned arguments you are still unconvinced, there is just one thing left to do – give it a try! BePrime is a good app to start with!