Writing to-do lists reduces stress. When you are busy, when you’ve got a lot going on and a lot that needs doing, it can be easy to forget things or muddle up priorities when you need to focus on something more important.
Conversely, with everything written down, you can see what needs to be done more clearly, plan your time more easily, and stop worrying about things that don’t matter. Professionals, students, and knowledge economy workers can’t stay “switched on” and focused on work 24/7. Being effective also means allowing your brain to switch off for a while, certainly when you are trying to sleep, and a to-do list is a great way to do that.
Advantages of writing to-do lists
The best thing about to-do list is the act of writing them in itself. Yes, there are a few tips and tricks, and some to-do apps are just stellar, but overall, once you make writing to-do lists part of your life, advantages will follow right away.
1. Get better sleep
Studies have found that those who write specific to-do lists for the day ahead, either at the end of the working day, or before bed, get to sleep quicker than those who don’t. Your brain is liberated from thinking about the tasks it needs to do next because everything is written down, either in an app or on paper.
2. Become more productive
Simply writing down specific actions you are going to perform makes you more effective at doing them. Guessing, or winging it, isn’t enough to ensure you accomplish your objectives on time.
When you have a full schedule, you have a structure, as an expert in productivity David Allen notes, without which people “struggle to cope.” Scribbled notes on hands, in phones (unless you are using a to-do list app), and Post-It notes are just not enough.
3. Make big tasks more manageable
Insurmountable tasks, such as “launch our Q4 marketing campaign” or “write a book,” sound daunting. Often, these are put off till the last moment, even when they're important. It is far easier to break big tasks into smaller ones, and then tick those smaller tasks off the list as you work through them. You will gain a greater sense of accomplishment and achieve your goals more easily.
4. Control your time realistically
One of the worst things people can do when juggling a lot of tasks is have an unrealistic expectation of how long something is going to take. Unexpected interruptions or something taking longer than planned can cause mission creep. Tasks rolling from one day into the next. It can cause stress and delays, even sleepless night, anxiety, and panic.
Writing to-do lists down on paper has limitations. Quantifying and measuring time taken or the time you expect to take on tasks is one of them. With a paper list, you’ve got no way of that having effect on your agenda, which is another disadvantage. The perfect way out — creating to-do lists using specific apps.
Most effective apps for making lists
Truth to be told, there are tons of to-do apps out there. Some iOS, some web-based, some are for Mac. The choice is endless, and the risk of coming across a bad one is quite high. Below, we’ve compiled a list of the best to-do apps available, so you can compare them quickly and choose one that’s right for you.
Make simple to-do lists with TaskPaper
With TaskPaper, you can make plain text lists of everything important to you, which will also be easily editable anywhere. The interface is distraction-free, so you can concentrate on tasks rather than complex settings.
The app is really as simple as download, write your lists, and then cross tasks off (using a @done tag) when you’ve completed something. TaskPaper makes it effortless to get what you need done quickly.
Create tasks the way you want with 2Do
Some people love writing lists, but hate to-do and productivity apps because it means sticking to a certain way of writing down tasks, which doesn't work for everyone.
But with 2Do, there is no wrong way of using it, and unlike other to-do apps, it won't force you into adhering to a particular task management methodology. Tasks can have notes, attachments, and multiple alarms. Focus and Smart Lists let you view tasks in different ways so you’ve got a clear idea of timelines involved in various projects and steps needed. The app comes with numerous other features and is well worth a look for those considering taking a new approach.
Break large projects down with GoodTask
Integrated with Apple Calendar and Reminders, GoodTask is a smarter way of organizing and prioritizing your tasks and projects, which lets you get big things done easier.
Combine your tools to succeed with NotePlan
To-do lists evolve. A call or email now might rearrange tasks in an instant. Or you might need to write a more detailed note that relates to a task coming up. Paper notes and the default note-taking app in your phone aren't really effective solutions here, leaving everything scattered around and disconnected from your primary list of what needs to be done.
NotePlan, on the other hand, helps you build a productivity machine by offering not just note-taking, but a calendar, reminders, bullet journaling, and more. It comes with an advanced system of bi-directional links that you can use to interlink your notes. And it perfectly syncs all your data with secure CloudKit Sync. You can get full access to NotePlan on Mac and iOS with Setapp membership.
Get visual with Cloud Outliner
During the early stages of any big project, whether it is academic or business, people who are trying to solve problems find it helpful to write notes and outline their ideas.
Paper notes can be useful as part of this process. But if you want to take these ideas to the next level, especially when it involves creating something on your Mac, you are starting from scratch. Hence the value of a list making app. With Cloud Outliner, you can create, manage, store, and edit visual outlines and notes in a fun, consistent, and smart way.
Map your challenges with iThoughtsX
What happens when you’ve got a project with multiple moving parts and areas of focus? Or even a team to coordinate and work with? Mind maps are a great way to get started. Mind maps can be put down on paper; but often, that won’t get you far when tasks need assigning and to-do lists need to be made.
iThoughtsX is a mind mapping app for macOS (with Windows and iOS versions available as well). Put all of your ideas down quickly and visually. Map out next steps. Make it easy to see what needs to happen, who owns different areas of the project, and the questions that remain unanswered.
Mind maps created in iThoughtsX can be exported and shared on other platforms too. You can import information from multiple other sources and platforms, and synchronize with various other services and platforms, including email and iCloud.
Find time for work with BusyCal
And finally, BusyCal is the most powerful, flexible, and reliable calendar app for macOS. It's packed with innovative, time-saving features, including customizable views, integrated to-do’s, travel time, maps, natural language input, weather, moons, graphics, tags, and more.
So when it comes to picking a to-do list app, or more than one, consider what you need. Work out — maybe through trial and error — the most effective way for you to make lists and manage your workload and time. And then pick an app or two that makes it easy for you to juggle projects and work you’ve got to get done.
Good news is, all the apps mentioned above are available for you to try free with Setapp — a growing subscription to over 200 high-quality macOS apps. Get started with a free 7-day trial today and check out all the list-making apps you might need.