How To Make A To-Do List That Works

Fast Company is a site mainly geared toward entrepreneurs and other businesspeople, but if you’re an author-publisher, you ARE an entrepreneur and can benefit greatly from some of the great content they’ve got over there. For example, Belle Beth Cooper‘s excellent article about to-do lists. Who among us hasn’t struggled with time management and ‘getting it all done’?

The article opens with some interesting factoids about the history of human list-making, as well as some of the psychology that a) drives us to make lists and b) sabotages our efforts to keep on top of said lists. Excerpted from the article’s 4 top to-do list tips:


1. Break projects into tasks, don’t succumb to the Zeigarnik effect

We kind of have a reminder system built-in to our minds that nags us about unfinished tasks, called the Zeigarnik effect. It sounds pretty cool that we already have this, but it’s actually not that reliable or healthy for us.

What really happens is that there’s a disconnect between our conscious and unconscious minds–the unconscious mind can’t plan how to finish the task, but it gets annoyed with the feeling of it being unfinished. To shake off that feeling, it nags the conscious mind with reminders about the task–not to finish it, but simply to encourage us to make a plan.

If you’ve heard of David Allen’s GTD method, you’ll be familiar with his concept of “next steps,” which is pretty much the same thing. It’s the process of breaking down a project or task into smaller tasks, and planning which one will be the next step towards completing the whole thing.

This abates the nagging of the unconscious brain, as it’s satisfied that at some point we’ll get onto that task, and we know exactly how we’ll do it.

Maria Popova at Brain Pickings says the essentials of creating these do-able next steps are to make “a few very specific, actionable, non-conflicting items.”


Click here to read the full article, The Amazing History Of The To-Do List–And How To Make One That Actually Works, on Fast Company.


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