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The totally passive habit that’ll help you hack your to-do list


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Photo: Stocksy/Guille Faingold

You’re making a list, but are you checking it twice? (Sorry, had to.) But, really, how often are you reading over your to-do list after you’ve drafted it? Obviously, you’re looking at it as you write down various tasks in your new chic planner and again to check off completed items, but for maximum productivity, you should be reading over it as well.

According to Art Markman, PhD, professor of psychology and marketing, going through your to-do list can help you become more efficient. It might seem counterproductive to simply watch as your list of unchecked items continues to grow, but the process actually creates what some psychologists refer to as “opportunistic planning.” That is, the more you think about what you need to do, the more likely it is that you’ll get done.

Reading over your to-do list creates what some psychologists refer to as “opportunistic planning.” That is, the more you think about what you need to do, the more likely it is that you’ll get it done.

“When you have a goal that you’re actively trying to achieve, you’re much more likely to notice things in your world that will help you reach that goal,” Dr. Markman wrote in a recent article for Fast Company. “Reading over your to-do list helps remind you what you’re trying to accomplish in the first place.”

Similarly, when you’re hyperaware of what’s coming up on your roster, you’re that much more likely to take advantage of coincidences, like running into a person or colleague who could help you meet your goals. Ultimately, this sort of multitasking cuts down on the time required to finish your tasks since you won’t be reaching out to people as you sit down to get to work.

Dr. Markman also advised using downtime to tackle the tasks on your list. During that six-block walk from your apartment to the train, or mid-blow-dry in the SoulCycle locker room, or in the matcha latte pickup line, your brain can help you plan ahead. But, only if it recalls what’s already on the agenda.

Ready to commit to to-do lists and planning? Here’s why you should keep a bullet journal, and here are some notebooks to help you maintain the habit.

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