A new view on the to-do list

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If you’ve ever felt like there’s a built-in to-do list playing on a loop through your head, you’re not alone.

Named after the Russian psychologist of the same name, the Zeigarnik Effect is the term given to the brain’s natural habit of prioritising uncompleted projects and sending out sporadic reminders for the various small tasks that require attention throughout the day. Unfortunately synapses alone are rarely enough to ensure all the various demands in our lives receive timely attention, leaving us to rely on an assortment of post-it notes, to-do lists and electronic reminders.

Even this strategy tends to be a far from perfect, however. Often the way people draw up to-do lists is simply not effective enough to ensure the items on them actually get done. It may be time to rethink the way you use reminders.

The first thing to realise is that the tasks facing you each day don’t necessarily all fall into the same category. For example, you may have colleague or client-based demands that carry different levels of importance according to your current circumstance. Try separating your list into categories such as ‘admin’ or ‘clients’, which will help determine which areas require more urgent attention over others.

Alternatively, Alex Cavoulacos, COO of The Muse, has devised the 1-3-5 rule for prioritising daily work-flow. He advises selecting one major task for the day to focus on, and following this up with three medium and five small tasks that should be attended to systematically.

With a reliable system in place, the next priority is to address the way you approach each individual task. Often vague prompts like “Call X” don’t provide enough immediate direction or incentive to spur you into addressing them. Instead go for more specific instructions requiring a set course of action, such as “Speak to X by 12.00 to ask about….”

Being this methodical with your to-do lists might seem like a major time investment. However, devising a strategy and sticking to it is more than likely to increase productivity in the long-run.

Source: HN Global