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5 Reasons Why Writing Lists Is Good for Your Mental Health

Keep checking those boxes!

Key points

  • Whenever we have multiple tasks, it's human nature to make a list. 
  • Lists are therapeutic; they help us organize and structure our time.
  • Lists can give us focus, direction, and purpose; boost self-esteem; lower anxiety, and help with ADHD symptoms.
Source: Glenn Carstens-Peters/Unsplash
Source: Glenn Carstens-Peters/Unsplash

There’s good news for people who love writing lists: Evidence suggests that writing a list is more than just good clean fun; it’s also great for your mental health. That’s right: There are lots of reasons to keep checking those boxes.

Your First List

You may not remember your first list, but it was probably sometime in middle school when your academic demands became more challenging. You may have had lots of homework and needed to juggle different assignments. You may have had an essay due in one class and a paper due in another.

It’s also possible that your first list was made while prepping for summer camp: bathing suit, toiletries, bug spray, sunblock. Sound familiar? Maybe your camp even supplied your first list.

If camp wasn’t part of your childhood experience, at some point, you likely wrote a shopping list: toys wanted, groceries to pick up, clothes to buy, or books you needed for school.

Bottom line: When we have multiple tasks to organize, making a list is human nature.

The Power of To-Do Lists

According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, people typically have 15 ongoing goals or projects at any given time, which can be challenging to organize. To-do lists are essential for following through on a plan of action while managing tasks without burdening our memory with unneeded information. What's more, we get a little burst of dopamine with every completed job.

Regarding lists, HBR senior editor Vasundhara Sawhney writes, "Essentially, when we create a roadmap to help us reach a goal, we are more likely to attain it and more likely to focus better on other areas of our work or lives in the interim."

Today you’ll likely find lists in every home: on old-school Post-its (my favorite), scrap paper, or in the margins of newspapers or books. Smartphones can even make digital lists for you. But even if you’re not a fan of lists, you can barely get through a day without encountering them: above counters in fast-food restaurants—What’s a menu but an oversized list?, store directories, cookbooks, or instruction manuals.

Are you headed to the airport? There are lists of incoming and outgoing flights that you’ll need to review. Getting in an elevator? There’s a list of floors and offices to eyeball.

Which raises an important question: Why are lists so popular?

Why We Love Lists

Lists are therapeutic; they help you to plan, set goals, or consider your options. Here are 5 primary reasons why they are good for your mental health:

  1. Lists help you plan and structure your time.
  2. Lists can give you focus, direction, and purpose.
  3. Completed tasks foster a sense of accomplishment, boosting self-confidence and esteem.
  4. Lists feed our ambition to achieve more.
  5. Lists can lower anxiety and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms by helping you organize your thoughts and remember tasks.

Whether you prefer bullet points, boxes, or numbers, digital or paper, lists are an excellent way to keep your day humming.

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