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The powerful benefits of writing lists


A desk with a planner on top

Writing lists is one of the most powerful things you can do. I don’t say that lightly. It’s been scientifically proven. Lists offer a plethora of benefits that make our lives better and easier. Without lists some of us — ahem, me — can’t function. Lists tell us what we need to remember, what we need to do, and what we need to buy.


But many people don’t write lists that much. They rely on their memory to recall everything they need to do. We’re so distracted by things that it's impossible to remember everything. We're distracted by the news, our phones, and family emergencies. It isn't fair to our brains, which already does enough.


That’s why lists are so important.


What are the benefits of writing lists?


Writing lists has long been proven to improve time management and increase focus. But those aren’t the only two benefits of writing lists. Here are some other pretty impressive benefits:


More structure


Writing lists brings a certain amount of structure to your day. You’re not wandering around aimlessly, trying to remember what tasks need to get done. Structure gives you a starting point. You know what is on the agenda and you can approach it with confidence. A little structure can go a long way in checking things off your to-do list.


Allows us to prioritize


When you have a running list of tasks, you see everything you want to get done. That doesn’t mean you’re going to get it all done in one day, but seeing everything laid out allows you to prioritize the important stuff. You can determine what to focus your time and attention on. When you prioritize, you’re more prone to finishing a task or project rather than jumping from one to the other.


Better memory


How many times a day or a week do you think, “Oh, I forgot about that?” I’m sure it’s a lot. Writing lists, no matter what type of list, is known to improve memory. When you learn to write as a kid, you write the same letter over and over again. Why? For memory.


Writing, rather than typing things into the computer or phone, forces us to slow down. We focus on what we’re writing and our brains retain the information better.


Strategic planning


When you see a lot of tasks laid out in front of you, you stop and think, “How will I get this done?” Writing lists helps with planning. You know you can’t simply “Go to Europe” as you wrote down. It requires planning. Flights to book. Hotel accommodations to make. A list of places to visit.


Not all tasks will require strategic planning. But for those larger ones, having it written down will force you to think about the steps to take. If you write those steps down — breaking a large goal into smaller goals — you’re more likely to finish it.


Sense of accomplishment


When you check something off your to-do list, what do you feel? Accomplished, right? I’m sure you don’t feel lousy unless the task was something you didn’t want to do. But you finished it! Having a list of tasks and goals means crossing them off when we’re done.


There’s nothing more exciting than watching your to-do list shrink. Sure, you’ll add new things to it, but that sense of accomplishment you get is amazing. Cherish it before jumping into the next task.


Reduced anxiety


When you keep forgetting to do things, your stress levels rise. Who wants that? Writing lists can reduce anxiety so why wouldn’t you start today? When you write things down and keep them somewhere handy, you don’t have to worry about remembering. It’s written there for you.


Take a breath. Even if the list is long, don’t feel overwhelmed. Just pull out 3 to 5 things you know you can do today or throughout the week. Focus on one task at a time and feel your anxiety reduce.


The types of lists you can make to reap the benefits


There are all types of lists you can make. You can have a running list of tasks and chores. You can have an ongoing shopping list you share digitally with a spouse. But there are three common types of lists you should start keeping. These three will reap the above-mentioned benefits the most.


To-Do List


Having a daily to-do list is a great list to keep around as it will keep you focused on the important tasks. No more wondering, “What did I say I’d do today?” Simply refer to your list and tackle what you wrote down.


It’s important not to overwhelm yourself. Don’t write a to-do list that’s three pages long. Focus on prioritizing the most important tasks. Have 1 big thing you want to get done no matter what and 3 to 5 other tasks.


Your one big task should be something time-sensitive and a task that moves you forward in a goal. The rest might be time-sensitive but aren’t as imperative to get done right away. If you don’t complete everything on your list, don’t panic. Just add it to tomorrow’s list.


Grocery List


How many times have you gone to the supermarket without a list? Did you buy things you didn’t need and forgot the items you did? If this has happened more than once, you’ll definitely benefit from a grocery list.


Write down — on paper or digitally, preferably on paper — the things you need. When you arrive at the store, focus on getting those items and those items only. It’ll be tempting to want that new brand of granola that’s on sale. Or purchase that extra bag of chips to have just in case. But do your best to buy only what’s on your list.


This will save you money since you’re not grabbing random things you think you need. And it’ll teach you how to focus on buying essentials.


Gift List


They come around every year. Birthdays and holidays where people exchange gifts. There’s nothing worse than asking someone what they want for their birthday or a holiday and hearing, “I don’t know. I don’t really need anything.”


What are you supposed to get them?


This is where lists can improve your memory. Next time you’re with a friend or at a family member’s house, try and focus on things they say like, “I need a new duvet.” Or, “My pots are looking a little dingy.”


If possible, take a quick note on your phone. Type, “Mom = new duvet,” or “Lisa = new cookware.” This way, when it comes time for birthdays or holidays, you can resort to this list and buy them something they actually need. The person may not remember saying it, but they’ll feel grateful that you did.


When it comes to yourself, create a wishlist. Update it whenever you see something online you’re interested in. When your birthday or holidays come near and people start asking you what you want, share the list with them.


Writing lists keep Imagine It Done running smoothly. Without my trusty Levenger planner, I wouldn’t know where I’m supposed to be or what I need for a certain project. I’m not saying everyone needs to have a detailed planner like I do, but everyone should have some type of notebook where they keep a running list of tasks, goals, or to-dos.


We love lists so much that if you sign up for our email list, you get a free Cleaning Schedule Checklist! This free download is broken down into daily, weekly, monthly, and annual checklists. It’ll help you stay on track of your home and keep your cleaning schedule organized.


Download the free guide here.