How List Apps Can Save Your Brain

There is a finite amount of space between your ears, and while it seems as though you can always store more memories in there, well…science still doesn’t really know how memory works. What we do know, however, is that remembering things is no trivial matter, especially today when it seems we are busier than ever. You might remember that you need to pack your suitcase for tomorrow, but remembering all of the individual things you need is another matter entirely. Thankfully, there really is a better way.

One of the guiding principles of the fabled Getting Things Done (GTD) system, is outsourcing your memory to a system you trust. The concept is simple: When you’re trying to remember a million things at the same time, it’s much harder to focus on what you’re doing in the moment, and it’s extremely likely that you’re going to let at least one of those balls drop, which can produce a lot of anxiety. This is why list apps are so fantastic, and most of us already have one on our phones (or can download one for free or on the cheap). Today we’re going to go through some quick tips for using list apps to declutter your brain.

What Makes a Good List App?

In principle, any list app will do, and you may already have one. But if not, or if you want one with more features, I suggest you look for these two things:

  1. Folders
    Opening your app to find a gigantic wall of text can be as overwhelming as trying to remember everything. For this reason, I recommend apps that allow you to easily create folders so you can categorize the items you need to check off. Other apps will simply allow you to create different checklists where you can add the items. Either works, but personally, I like apps that let me put my lists into folders, which keeps everything tidier. We’ll get into some of my favorite categories below.
  2. Multiplatform
    I really like list apps that sync to the cloud. This accomplishes two things: Not only can you be sure that your list is backed-up (should your phone fall in the toilet again), but that also means you can usually view, edit, and add to it from other devices such as your desktop, tablet, or even a web browser. The idea is to make it as easy as possible to access so that you actually use it consistently!

Categories

You should create lists/folders that make sense to you and your life, but here are some of my go-to categories:

  • To do tomorrow: This is near-term stuff. I’ll frequently add to this list as I’m wrapping up my work day or before I go to bed. Knowing you’ve written it down may help you from lying awake at night, worrying you’re going to forget to do something.
  • Location specific: This is stuff you need to do at a particular place, like the grocery store, pharmacy, or hardware store. It may save you from making multiple trips to the same place because you forgot that one thing.
  • Media to consume: One of my favorites. I have lists of books friends have told me to read, albums I want to listen to, movies that look good, topics I want to research, etc.
  • Packing lists: An absolute lifesaver. In the days leading up to a trip when I remember that there’s something I definitely want to remember to pack, I’ll add it immediately. This has made even last-minute packing vastly less stressful.

You get the idea. If I’m visiting a new city and friends recommend restaurants or attractions, I’ll put them all in one list under the city’s name. I’ll make lists of home repairs I need to get to, things I need to do for work, or personal projects I’d like to create. There’s really no limit, but getting it out of your head and into a system you trust will be a real game changer, trust me.

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