The Magical Act of Crossing Items off Your lList

Dr. Liza Varvogli
5 min readMar 26, 2018

“Rename your “To-Do” list to your “Opportunities” list. Each day is a treasure chest filled with limitless opportunities; take joy in checking many off your list.”
Steve Maraboli

A shared human experience is the need to get stuff done, from the mundane routine things that sustain us, to the more elaborate work-related and self-improvement tasks. Recent studies show that we perform better when we write down what we need to do. Besides getting the job done, to-do lists have a positive impact on our life in several ways.

To-do lists are productivity-enhancing and personal change tools.

The Benefits of Keeping Lists

Frees your mind. That’s not a small thing. Running around with busy minds, teeming with creative ideas, tasks, chores, goals, ambitions, dreams, stuff that needs to be done a list is a good way to free your mind. You make a list and that frees your mind to pursue your dreams. Better yet, why not make a list of your dreams?

Allows you to keep track of your dreams. Even if they are in a very primitive stage, and you haven’t thought a specific course of action. Somehow stating your dream in writing is the first step to make it ‘real” and start pursuing it.

Organizes the internal chaos. Swamped by all that needs to be done? Your thoughts seem random and tangled up? Probably you are also caught in a whirlwind of various feelings. This internal turmoil doesn’t allow you to proceed. Writing a list may be a good way to organize all that there is, in terms of ideas and steps to your goals.

Helps you deal with a sense of urgency or distress when faced with too many tasks to accomplish. Afraid that time is running out? Stressed out and anxious? With your to-do list you can start taming those feelings.

Allows you to detach from the things that worry you. Our worries seem always bigger and worse when they just float in our heads. When we take the time to jot them down, we literally get them off our brain, at least partially, and then they usually get reduced to a more realistic or manageable size.

Helps with planning and organization. That’s another obvious one. Sometimes we want to accomplish things, but we don’t take the time to plan ahead and get organized. It’s like wanting to bake a cake now, without first checking that we have the necessary ingredients.

Allows you to jot down the urgent things. Kind of obvious, but often neglected. When we are pressed to do things, we don’t necessarily start where we should. We pick randomly an item and we proceed. That may not be the best course of action. Depending on the situation, we may need to start off with the hardest thing. Or it may be more effective to deal with the easy stuff and get them over with before going on to the heavy-duty ones.

Grounds you to reality about how important is or isn’t the specific item. That’s also good, especially when you tend to worry and get overwhelmed with multiple tasks. Plus, a list helps you not to multitask, and do one thing at a time, which we know is better for productivity and mental health too.

The “Zeigarnik effect” — we tend to remember things we need to do rather than things we have already done. This is Dr. Zeigarnik’s conclusion, a Russian psychologist, who observed that waiters could only remember customers’ orders before they had been served. After they had delivered their dishes, the waiters didn’t remember who had the burger and who had the pasta. The task was completed and the brain erased the memory, to make room for new ones.

How crossing off items makes you a better person, besides getting the job done:

Try this casual experiment: write down three things you want to accomplish, no matter how small. Check how you feel. Then go ahead and do these things (yes, it could even be doing the dishes!). Now check again how you feel. You ‘d be surprised that you feel better! Here’s why:

Sense of effectiveness and efficiency. When you cross off items from your to-do list, you immediately get a sense of accomplishment.

Small personal victory. Now, that a big one! A great feeling, that you can have in your daily life. all it takes is write what you want to do and then do it!

Stroke to self-esteem. Seeing yourself being productive is certainly adding a good measure of self-esteem in your daily psychological diet. Please note that this is incremental; the more you accomplish the more your self-esteem grows.

Instills optimism. Changing from thinking “I want to” to “I did so” is a great leap. All of a sudden, you have accomplished things that you were postponing, that you didn’t know you needed to do (till you actually wrote them down). This sense of mastery helps you become more of an optimist, since your thinking changes and you see yourself as a doer.

Empowering. If you can do one thing, then for sure you can do the next on your list. This knowledge empowers you to keep going and make your dreams come true. And if not that, it certainly brightens your day with the glow of personal accomplishment and inner strength the “I did it!” gives each of us.

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Dr. Liza Varvogli

Ph.D. in Psychology| Harvard-trained| Psychotherapist| Stress Management Professor|Parenting & Relationships Expert|Meditator|Positive thinker|Solution-oriented