For those of you trying to balance rigorous classes, a job, a demanding internship, outside obligations, all the while trying to maintain a social life, life can seem like an overwhelming mess. Even the most complex formula can’t figure that one out for you. Luckily, there is something that you can use to instantly organize even the busiest of schedules — lists. Believe it or not, making lists has a lot more benefits than just to keep you on track. So next time a problem needs to be solved, avoid the calculator or complex equations and whip out a pen and paper to begin making that list ­— unless it’s for Calculus. Good luck with that one.

Benefit your brain

According to Cynthia R. Green, Ph.D., a nationally recognized clinical psychologist and brain health/memory fitness expert, list-making is actually beneficial to your brain. Lists alert the brain, which allows you to pay attention to things that need remembering. “Using lists, just like using any technique to boost your brainpower, will focus your attention more actively on the information you need to remember. Why? When we work with information, we pay closer attention to it.” Information comes in many forms nowadays, and sometimes it may be hard to keep up with all of it coming at you from many different directions. List-making can aid you when you’re suffering from information overload.

Lower stress and anxiety levels

There has most likely been a time when it seemed impossible to complete all the things you needed to get done. At this point there is no motivation to be found, nor is there enough coffee to be consumed that can help you push through it. This can sometimes lead to an increase in your level of stress or anxiety. A simple list will help ease those fears and knock those high levels down a few notches. By transferring those thoughts and tasks onto paper, you can make the tasks seem less daunting and lighten the load on your brain, which leads to lower stress and anxiety levels.

Lead to happiness

Ever feel like you can conquer anything after you cross something off of your to-do list? Physically crossing off an item is good for you mentally. That sense of accomplishment increases your self-esteem and keeps your production and motivation levels high. Staying productive and motivated results in making the most of your time, so there is more room in your day for the things you really enjoy. Doing the things you love to do makes for a day well spent. Plus, the more you cross off, the better it is to see how much work you did, and having a physical representation of that work is a good way to reflect and to feel good about yourself.

Prioritize

We face many tasks throughout our day, some more urgent than others. When things are becoming a bit too hectic, a list allows you to organize based on what needs to be done first or what can be put off for later. Start with listing the task that has top priority. This will help you focus on what is essential to your day before getting to the less important tasks.

Lists are not all work

Don’t forget about the little things. With a list full of daunting tasks and chores things can easily look unpleasant, and that newfound inspiration can fly right out the window. Include the small but enjoyable things, such as reading a chapter of your favorite book, calling your mom or best friend or simply relaxing with a hot shower or bubble bath. Making time for enjoyable moments is just as important as making time for crucial tasks.

“Lists are a useful tool for remembering the joy in life, the things that make us happy, accomplishments you are proud of, your good-work list and your reasons to celebrate.”

— Dr. Vonda Wright, creator and director of the Performance and Research Initiative for Master’s Athletes

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