To-Do Lists: Why they’re beneficial & 3 apps to get you started

I have a confession to make. I’m addicted to making lists. Something about it appeals to my slightly type A personality.

Before I go shopping, I like drawing up a shopping list. When we travel, I come up with packing checklists in fear that my husband and I might forget something important. Before interviews, I often make a mental list of possible questions that may be asked and try to prepare for them. But the list that I enjoy making most is to-do lists. There’s something so satisfying about getting all the things you need to get done down on paper (or an app). Nothing beats having a solid plan to conquer the day.

Recently, I started wondering: why do to-do lists feel so gratifying? There must be a reason, so I decided to turn to the Internet for answers. Interestingly, I came across many reasons why to-do lists are beneficial for us.

In an article in The Guardian, psychologist Dr. David Cohen pinpoints 3 reasons why many of us love to-do lists:

1. Reduces our anxiety

I can certainly relate to this one. There have been many nights when I feel anxious and unable to sleep. Pending tasks weigh heavily on my mind and sometimes, writing it all down and having a plan of action makes me feel better.

You know that nagging feeling you have when there are unfinished tasks that need to be done? There’s actually a name for it – the “Zeigarnik effect”. Apparently, it’s named after psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik who noticed when she was dining out that waiters could remember pending orders rather well, but once the order was served, it basically disappeared from their memory. So, if you find yourself thinking and worrying about unfinished tasks, don’t beat yourself up. Our brains have a scientifically proven obsession over these tasks!

To-do lists, however, can be of great help. Pending tasks tend to linger in the mind, possibly distracting us from other tasks at hand. Interestingly, researchers from Florida State University have found that once a plan is made regarding how and when pending tasks will be tackled, the mind is more at ease and better able to concentrate on other tasks.

2. Gives us structure

It’s comforting to have a plan for the day. When we have a to-do list, we have a clear idea of what needs to be done and when. This provides much needed structure to our day. The to-do list acts almost like a compass, guiding us through our day to ensure that we reach our destination promptly.


3. Serves as proof of what we have achieved

Crossing things off our to-list is indeed a great feeling. We may not cross off everything on our list, but that’s okay. Sometimes, we get caught up in the busyness of life and it’s easy to overlook all the things you have accomplished over the days. As you look back at and cross off items on your to-do list, you begin to realise how much you have achieved and that can provide added motivation to keep you going.

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Given the numerous benefits of to-do lists, we can certainly stand to gain from incorporating them into our lives. Of course, there’s no one right way of doing it. Some prefer the traditional pen and paper for this while others like using to-do list apps on their phone. I dabble in a bit of both, but I mostly fall in the latter category mainly because I can never find a functional pen or a notebook when I need one.

This week, I decided to test out popular to-do list apps – Todoist, Habitica, Any.do – and here’s my review:

1. Todoist


Todoist is currently my go-to app for making to-do lists.


Pros:

  • Has a simple, clean interface.

  • Provides a clear overview of the week, so at a glance, you get a good picture of what needs to be done over the next few days.

  • Tasks can be assigned different levels of priority.

Todoist provides an overview of your week. Tasks are listed in the order of priority.

Cons:

  • Certain useful features such as reminders are only available for Premium or paying users.

2. Habitica



This is a cool app that adds a fun gaming element to to-do lists. When you register, you can choose a username and customise your avatar. I could even add a ponytail and glasses to make my avatar look like me! There are different sections to track your habits, dailies, and to-dos.


Pros:

  • Offers a built-in incentive system. Completing tasks earns you experience (which helps you level up) and gold (which helps you get rewards).

  • You can set reminders for your tasks.

  • Allows you to form a party and take on quests with friends. Failing to complete your list can cause damage to others in your party and this adds an added level of accountability.

My avatar has a ponytail and glasses! Like me!

Cons:

  • The interface may not appeal to non-gamers.

3. Any.do

I recently stumbled across this app and it has some pretty cool features.


Pros:

  • Has a simple, clean interface.

  • Provides an overview of all your tasks by category – work, personal, grocery, etc.

  • You can make custom lists for your every need.

  • You can set reminders for your tasks.

  • You can connect Any.do to your Google Assistant and add tasks to your list hands-free! For e.g. say you’re doing your work and you suddenly remember you forgot to add tomatoes to your grocery list. Just say “Ok Google, add tomatoes to my grocery list,” and it’s done. How cool is that!

Make custom lists for your every need!

Cons:

  • Certain features such as tags and colours are only available for Premium or paying users.

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Do give these apps a try! They each have their own plus points, so test them out to determine which suits you best. I hope you enjoyed this post. Here's to making to-do lists and conquering our day!

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Hi there!

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Hi, I’m Vidhya. I’m a freelance writer and millennial who often struggles with adulthood.

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