Few of our to-do lists are this short.

Few of our to-do lists are this short.

It’s hard to find a person who doesn’t have a definite opinion about lists, whether that opinion is good or bad. Some people live by lists. They have lists for everything, from doing the most minute tasks around the house to completing large work projects. Others hate lists; lists overwhelm them and make them anxious. These kinds of people can’t operate unless everything on the list is crossed off. Interestingly, people on both sides of the coin are “right” — there are definitely pros and cons to using lists. And new technology — including reminders and organizational or listing apps — make lists either much better or much worse, depending who you ask. This article will help you understand the pros and cons of lists and how both traditional and digital lists might help you stay organized.

The Good

Lists really do help you keep organized. Most obviously, they ensure that you won’t forget a task. However, they can also increase your motivation to succeed. When you cross or check an item off a list, it makes you feel good, accomplished. That little feeling of satisfaction is a reward that might just allow you to trick yourself into doing more working, being more efficient and continuing the listing process, which will help you get organized.

Using a list also allows you to organize your tasks in a more efficient way. Consider the grocery list. Many people arrange their grocery lists by sections — frozen food, produce, meat. This ensures that you don’t take too long in the store. You can do this with other lists too — organizing to-do items by room, time or in a series of steps. All of this allows you to take a more streamlined, organizational approach to your work, meaning you do better work faster.

The Bad

What happens when you can’t cross an item off a list? You have probably experienced this at one time or another in their lives. You put “make a doctor’s appointment” on their list, for example, but your doctor’s office is closed for the week. Or, you make a daily list complete with items that must be done each day, like working out. But you miss working out that day. What do you do? Does the item just sit there, not crossed off, forever? Or do you discard the list?

These scenarios might sound funny, but they are really very frustrating for people who use lists. Having that little item that isn’t crossed off, that can never be crossed off, can greatly vex an individual who uses lists on a daily basis. It can quickly lead people to dislike listing all together, to abandon the list and all the work on it.

The Wireless

Despite its vocal opponents, listing has certainly surged on a technological scale. There are a large number of software programs, apps, and other Internet-based programs that are created to help you create and manage lists. One of the most common include iPhone and iPad’s reminders app — a built-in app that comes with the latest operating system. In fact, you can even use iPhone’s automated assistant, Siri, to help you remember something — she’ll put it in the reminders app and then display the reminder at the time you indicate. Other popular apps include Cozi — the family organization software — Evernote, Minimalist To-Do List, and even most smartphones note taking programs.

These programs offer an advantage over the traditional list because they allow you to set alarms or reminders for specific times, get email reminders, add pictures and links, and organize your lists into files or categories.

Using Lists

Even if you haven’t been a list person in the past, if you are trying to get organized, the list can help you a great deal. However, you should use the list in a way that makes sense for you and the tasks that you want to accomplish.

  • First, start with categories. Do you want to break your list down into many categories, or do you want to create multiple lists.
  • Second, decide if a handwritten or technological list is best for you. If you are a naturally technological person who carries a smartphone, you might find that a list app helps you stay on top of things, but some people still prefer handwritten lists — even if they do everything else on the computer.
  • Third, once you have laid out some parameters for your list, add absolutely everything to a list, but allow yourself to cross off items that either are no longer relevant. Some of the list programs allow you to remove items without crossing them off.

Make sure you look at your list often, and if you see something on your list that you can do in just a couple of seconds or minutes — do it! Many of us are naturally wired to procrastinate. Before you look at the list, tell yourself that if there is something on it that you can complete in just a few minutes you will do it, right away, then cross it off. As you see your list dwindle, you’ll like the feeling, and you’ll be more likely to work quickly. Another technique you can try is giving yourself a set number of tasks to complete before you offer yourself a reward — like time to watch TV, read a chapter of a book, or nap. Just keep the rewards small and ensure you limit them — if you do two tasks then read for the rest of the afternoon, your list won’t be helping you!

Some people will never be list people, but whether you use technological remodels of lists or written lists, lists can help you get organized — maybe you should give them another try!

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