How To Do Lists Give You Peaceful Nights and Weekends

Every working week usually ends for me by writing a "to do" list for the work to be done the next week, or at least Monday. I do this partly so that I don't forget the work in progress, or the highest priorities, but it also has the useful side effect of making the weekend more relaxing. This offloading of the work still to be done onto paper or a file appears to lighten the load on your mind, since you know the list is safely written down and you don't need to keep thinking about it.

How you do this mental offloading step doesn't seem to make any difference. At my own desk I tend to use a paper list and when I am travelling I often use an email to myself. Once the list is safely written you can mentally "close the office" for the weekend without being stressed by all the work still to be done. It has always worked for me, though I don't recall seeing any serious research to back it up.

But now there is some experimental evidence that indirectly supports the effectiveness of this method. Michael K Scullin and colleagues of the Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory at Baylor University just published a paper titled "The Effects of Bedtime Writing on Difficulty of Falling Asleep" which reports that subjects who made a to do list for the next day before going to bed slept better than those who had made a list of accomplishments. You can find their paper through PubMed here:

As far as I know Scullin et al haven't tested the weekend hypothesis yet, but I will be very surprised if the effect doesn't really exist. It has worked for me for many years and it has worked for other people who learned it from me as an aside in leadership workshops -- to lead effectively you have to stay on track with planned activities and goals, but at the same time you need space at the weekend to recharge your mental batteries.

If you ever find yourself thinking too much about work problems during the weekend or the night try this method sometime; it is simple, but surprisingly effective.

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