Memory, Accomplishment and The Psychology of the To-Do List
by C.S. Clarke, Ph.D.
Perhaps one or two percent of successful people manage to get their important tasks completed without a to-do list. If you think you are in the percentage that doesn't need lists to help you remember and keep organized, you're probably not.
(If you are very successful -- by your definition of success -- and you are happily living a life of meaning and purpose, getting everything done you need and want to get done and never forget anything you are supposed to do, just forget about this and go read some other article.)
Sometimes I think the reason that people resist using lists to keep organized is that they simply don't want to believe that they need to do so. They just have the common belief that they are different and special. So, if they have to use reminders, it means they're just like everyone else.
It is true that you are unique and special. Just as you are physically different from everyone else, as can be shown by your DNA, you are mentally different from everyone else by virtue of your unique experience and training.
It is also true that if you want to be able to remember and accomplish all your goals and tasks without needing lists and other reminders, you must have the experience and training that allows you to do so. Extremely few people have that naturally, and few others take the time to develop it. (Yes, you actually can develop a powerful memory with training. But it takes time and effort most folks don't want to expend. Lists are so much easier to train yourself to use.)
If you retrain yourself to consistently make and use to-do lists, shopping lists and other lists, you will be part of a different elite group.
Yes, it may be true that your need to use lists and other reminders is very common, but the actual use of lists and reminders is -- as I've just been pointing out -- quite uncommon. Even though it is the number one recommendation of time management experts. Most people need lists, but most people won't use them. It seems silly in the face of the fact that they keep forgetting and failing to accomplish their tasks.
Indeed, memory training courses and books are in great demand. People are willing to spend large amounts of time and money trying to improve their memories. Yet, simple lists are easy, work extremely well, and cost very little.
If you want to join the elite who use to-do and other lists to get things done, just remember to keep them short, simple and targeted to your goals. And use them conscientiously. The big surprise you will get is that the more you use them, the more your memory will improve and the more organized you will become. The more you use them, the fewer of them you'll need, because using reminder lists trains your memory.