Why you should put EVERYTHING on your to-do list

Does either of these sound familiar?

“I keep a to-do list, but I don’t go quite as far as to write doing the laundry on it.”

“My partner wants to keep a shared list of household chores, but I think it would be too stressful to include everything on it so we only list the big things.”

Yeah, they sound familiar to me too, because people say these to me all the time.

To be honest, I don’t really get this way of thinking. What is the point of keeping a to-do list if you need to mentally track all the little things you need to do, anyway?

I’ve written before about the flaws in this reasoning. Today I want to focus on just one small aspect of why the minimal to-do list is a mistake:

Looping the loop… again

Your brain has something called a “rehearsal loop”. The rehearsal loop is what reminds you of things that you still need to do.

You have a coffee in the morning, realise that you’re about to be out of milk, and think “Oh, I should get milk.” And then your brain helpfully reminds you several times throughout the day that you need to get milk.

So far, so good.

But there are two problems with the rehearsal loop:

  1. It isn’t very good at alerting you at helpful times. You might remember five different times throughout the day “I need to get milk!” and yet fail to remember when you’re actually at the freaking grocery store. The rehearsal loop doesn’t go off when it’s most helpful. It just goes off periodically until you either do the task, or forget about it.
  2. It isn’t very good at prioritising. As far as the rehearsal loop is concerned, everything is equally important. It will remind you to get milk just as often as it will remind you to look up how to get to your all-important end-of-semester exam by public transport. If you try to cram too many items into your short-term memory and the rehearsal loop is forced to forget something, it’s just as likely to forget the thing about the exam.

So do yourself a favour: Stop forcing yourself to think about all those mundane, unimportant tasks all the damn time, and just write them on your to-do list.


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