To-do-lists: A life hack to productivity

By Bukamuso Sebata


Image provided by notonthehighstreet.

“There is satisfaction,” he said to Dalinar, “in creating a list of things you can actually accomplish, then removing them one at a time” - Brandon Sanderson, Oathbringer.


I pride myself in the fact that I can meet my deadlines even after a whole week of procrastinating. I think that every student who thinks they have mastered the art of procrastinating can recite these words in their sleep: I work well under pressure. This is something most people say to make themselves feel better about not doing the work they are supposed to. Telling yourself that you work better under pressure makes it easier to ignore your responsibilities.


I am someone who procrastinates a lot. Sometimes I look at all the submissions I have for a week and I get this feeling of suffocating. Then I start panicking. This then leads to me putting everything off to stop myself from the panicking and suffocating. This behaviour lasts all week and always leaves me with just two days to do a whole week’s work. The result of this is that I now have to actually work under pressure and I find out that I do not work great under pressure. I find out that I lied to myself. This is a weekly cycle I cannot escape.


Whenever I have to work under pressure, I stress and experience endless anxiety attacks. Those two days consist of me hating myself for lying to myself, because I clearly do not do great under pressure. I sometimes find myself asking for extensions and not putting effort into a submission, because it is due in an hour. Obviously, telling myself that I work well under pressure was not yielding the greatest of results for me. My friends always tease me for how I am a typical Virgo: clinically organised. This is not something I saw until I started to religiously follow the act of creating to-do-lists.


There is a sense of calm and satisfaction I get whenever I tick something off the list. What I am really obsessed with is adding items to the daily list. It makes me feel busy and this, in turn, makes me productive. For me, a to-do-list has become a system of tracking my progress, even if it is the smallest progress. What my daily list consists of is my weekly submissions, classes and tutorials. With online learning, it is hard to stick to your timetable, because it feels like everything is all over the place at times.


I add even the smallest things to the list to feel like I have accomplished a great deal in a day. These things include replying to a text, sending an email, watching another episode of Friends or listening to a new album. As much as to-do-lists are about me having a lot of things to tick off so that I can feel great, they also come with a lot of benefits. The first thing to acknowledge is that to-do-lists create order in our daily lives. Whenever you feel like the amount work you have is an unrealistic amount, breaking it down into a list helps you plan.


Breaking down those many submissions creates an orderly system that can assist in you completing everything on time. When you jot something down, you give it life and this makes it almost impossible to ignore it. Unlike procrastination that incites endless stress, having an organised to-do-list helps relieve your stress. That feel-good feeling you get when you scratch something off reduces your stress levels. Whenever you tick something off your daily list, a substance called dopamine, the main chemical of pleasure, is released into your brain and leaves you feeling happy.


Another benefit to focus on is how a to-do-list can reduce your anxiety. Our brains have a tendency of obsessing over incomplete tasks and we usually have no control over this. These incomplete tasks pop up in your brain during the day at unexpected times and this leads to your body being tense and you feeling anxious. When you write something down, it is easier to get it done. Procrastinating becomes less of an option and this reduces your anxiety levels. One of my favourite benefits is time management. A to-do-list helps in prioritising your responsibilities and this leaves you with some extra time.


Even though procrastinating is a way of life among students, it produces a lot of negative emotions that are not good for your mental health in the long run. Online learning is stressful enough on its own and not having an organised system to help you stay up to date with your work can make things worse. Having a to-do-list increases your productivity levels, because you have a clear picture of your goals. It helps you orderly organise your work, get everything done on time, learn to prioritise your responsibilities and it reduces your stress levels.

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