Write it down: The value of keeping lists

Why clutter your mind with trivia? Writing things down is a habit of highly successful people, and it can make you more productive.

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WASHINGTON, July 11, 2017 — We focus on resources—labor, capital, oil, financial resources—when we make business and investment decisions. Scarce resources are the basis for finance and for economic analysis. But somehow in our thinking about resources, we often ignore one of the most fundamental resources of all: the human mind.

Or, more generally, the brain. Neurons are the basic working units of our brains, brains that never sleep. These specialized cells are designed to store, process and transmit information. They make thought possible. From deciding what to eat, looking lovingly at your mom, playing football, remembering your childhood, learning a new skill to imagining the future, it all depends on those neurons and their ability to communicate.

Given the importance of neurons, their well-being is crucial to our lives.

173 Neurons – Photo by: Rebecca-Lee (Flickr)

One way to take care of the brain and its working units is through mental cleansing, and one approach to that is through the practice of “calendaring.” Calendaring involves making a note of every task on a calendar. Although your brain is capable of storing vast amounts of information, using it as your calendar consumes considerable mental resources that could be used elsewhere.


Calendaring is a common habit of successful men and women. Reducing the mental effort they devote to low-level mental tasks is a habit some of them have refined to an art and a way of life. Have you ever wondered why successful people like the late Steve Jobs and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg always wear the same simple outfit? They don’t waste mental effort on small things like choosing what to wear. A closet full of white turtlenecks eliminates any thought about what to wear.

Calendaring is not necessary because people can’t keep track of what they have to do, but as a means of using their neuro-resources—their brains—wisely, just like having a wardrobe that requires no thought. Keeping your schedule in your head is unreliable, unnecessary and potentially costly.

Calendaring is a way to clean unnecessary information from your brain. Write down your tasks and their due dates, appointments and their topics, times and addresses. You should even calendar take-home messages after each meeting. Do not use and rely on your brain to remember and remind you about little things.

Step one: Calendar everything. Once you calendar, the task no longer consumes mental resources, but it remains accessible. There is an additional benefit: Research suggests that the act of writing out information makes it easier to recall without any active or conscious effort.

For better results, go old fashioned. It sounds odd and may seem impractical, but if you want to get most our out your experience, write things out using pen and paper instead of typing or using digital calendars. Writing helps form neural pathways for a more efficient learning experience, something typing cannot do. For an excellent article on writing, click here.

Step two: Once you have a master calendar, write down daily tasks and goals on index cards: one task per card. Organize your cards by importance. When you finish one task, set that card aside and do the next.

Besides helping you remember tasks, this system helps you do the most important tasks first. It prevents distractions, reduces stress, organizes your brain, and most importantly, allows you the satisfaction of seeing progress throughout the day.

Neurons are a precious resource. Instead of using them to remember when to do what, successful people save their energy because they don’t waste neural resources on small tasks; they devote mental energy and resources to engage in more complex tasks.

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