Five Reasons Why Organised People Love Lists

If you’ve ever been overwhelmed looking at your calendar at the start of a busy week, there’s nothing more helpful than organising and prioritising your tasks, and breaking them into smaller, more manageable actions.

Some people even write down tasks they’ve already completed just so they can have the satisfaction of crossing something off.

Those who know the satisfaction of blazing a giant tick through an empty box signifying a finished task would agree.

Are you craving a fresh yellow Post-it Note yet?

1. Lists help us become more productive.

It‘s easier to move on the simplest, actionable steps.

A daily to-do list needs a strong dose of realism and specificity, says Julie Morgenstern, a productivity consultant and the author of Time Management From the Inside Out.

“Estimating how long things take will not only help you plan days more realistically, it will also help you take advantage of blocks of time that open up unexpectedly.”

To-do list on post-it note

On task. Image source: iStockphoto

2. Lists help us remember

At the most generous estimate, the average adult attention span sits at around the 15-20 minute mark.

Memorising things through rote learning can be difficult, and since the advent of smartphones, our memory isn’t what it used to be.

It’s easier to remember everything if we write it down in bulleted, or numbered, points, writes The New Yorker’s Maria Konnikova.

“Then, even if we forget the paper at home, it is easier for us to recall what was on it because we can think back to the location of the words themselves.”

3. Lists simplify our lives

Lists make complicated information easy to digest.

Maria Konnikova argues "there’s little that our brains crave more than effortlessly acquired data."

According to Konnikova, a list spatially organises information. Further, it promises a story that’s finite, whose length has been quantified upfront.

Seeing information as a list makes you feel less overwhelmed by a task so it’s easier to complete, which in turn makes you happier.

Supercharge your productivity with a to-do list

Supercharged productivity

4. Lists bring order 

Let’s face it, life can feel like trying to stand still amidst a whirlwind of chaos and uncertainty.

In our efforts to quantify, categorise and find meaning in our world, we are drawn to lists.

It’s for this reason that novelist Umberto Eco claimed lists “have an irresistible magic”.

Speaking with Der Spiegel, Eco said, “the list is the origin of culture. It’s part of the history of art and literature. What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible. And how, as a human being, does one face infinity? How does one attempt to grasp the incomprehensible? Through lists.”

5. Lists help us prioritise

“When people don’t take control, they go through their days passively,” argues Robert C. Pozen, senior lecturer at Harvard Business School and author of Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours.

“They go to meetings, they answer email, and when they get to the end of the day, what they’ve done is responded to other people’s priorities and not their own,” he says.

In the struggle of competing priorities, lists help you take back the control you need in the organisation of your day.