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Using To-Do Lists Effectively

There is only so much our short term memory can retain - hence the importance of writing things down.

Some have suggested the magic number 7 as our brain’s capacity to store things for immediate retrieval (short-term memory). Indeed, Atkinson-Shiffrin came up with their "three store" memory model: a sensory register, short-term memory (STM) and long-term memory (LTM). According to this model, STM has a duration of 15-30 seconds and a capacity of roughly 5-7 items.

So, given that our mental capacity for remembering things is rather limited - especially so for managers who juggle many different tasks and must prioritise them – writing things down in a way that we can deal with them later is a critical skill. Productivity requires prioritisation and systematic effort.

Here are a few principles:

You can have a long list of tasks, but your daily to-do list must be short, with only a few that are high priority. In my case, I try to set at least one task that must be done during the day (some call it the "daily highlight").

Be specific when you describe a “to-do” item. It is preferable if you phrase it as an action, therefore avoiding vagueness.

Use one system and stick to it. At some point, I caught myself using several systems at the same time: an app called “Todoist”, Apple’s “Reminders” and Apple’s “Notes” - all to record and track to-do items. That is certainly no way to manage tasks and workflows.

Having a to-do list is an important habit. Effective time management depends on it!


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