Todo Lists Delegate Work Away From Your Conscious Mind

Critical Fallibilism advocates delegating work from your conscious mind to your subconscious. This takes mental load off your conscious mind, which frees up attention for other things, including creating more advanced knowledge.

Your subconscious isn’t the only place you can delegate mental work to. Todo lists also reduce the load on your conscious mind. Todo lists let you stop worrying about remembering some things.

For todo lists to work, you have to check them at the right time. Most commonly this means having a habit of checking them regularly. If you forget what’s on the todo list and forget to check the todo list, then it won’t work.

Todo lists can help with forming habits. If you want to brush your teeth every day, but that isn’t habitual, then you can put it on your todo list. A habit of checking your todo list can help you form other habits.

When should you check your todo list? It depends. A typical answer is: in the morning, in the evening, and several times in between. It’s common to review your todo list either before bed or after waking up, to remind you of what you’re doing the next day (or doing today for a morning review). A daily review also lets you see what you didn’t get done, so you can make decisions like raising the priority of a task, delaying it, or deciding not to do it.

A good habit is to check your todo list after finishing a task, before deciding what to do next. If you need a break after a task, you could check your todo list during or immediately after the break. Another good habit is to check your todo list when you’re not sure what to do. Also, if you notice a task is taking longer than planned, that’s a good time to check your todo list to see if you have time to finish anyway. You might need to pause this task to do something else. You could also check your todo list whenever you notice you’re spending much time on social media or before going on social media.

Besides a general todo list for things you want to do, you can have more specific todo lists. You might have a todo list for work tasks, which you only check while at work. You might have a todo list for sub-tasks within one task, which you only check while working on that task.

For todo lists to work well, you also need a habit of adding tasks to them. If you think to yourself “I’ll remember this” but don’t write it down, then your todo list will be less effective.

Todo lists don’t just help you remember what tasks to do. They also help you remember what tasks you did in the past. They keep a record of what you did when. Sometimes it’s useful to remember when you did something or what you did.

You can review your completed todos to get information about your productivity. This could help you optimize your productivity. You could also look at statistics of how many tasks per day you finish on average. That’ll help you predict how many tasks per day you can finish in the future, which will help you plan your schedule and judge how many tasks to schedule in a time period.

Similar to todo lists, notes and documentation also let you delegate mental work away from your conscious mind. These all work in the same basic way: if something is written down, you don’t have to remember it. Neither your conscious nor subconscious needs to remember it. You do need to remember that it’s written down or you won’t go read it when it’s relevant, but that’s less information to remember.

For example, if good software documentation exists, then instead of remembering how to use all the features that an app has, you can look things up when needed. This requires you to remember that the documentation exists and to have a reasonable understanding of what features exist. If you know a feature exists and when to use it, but don’t know how to use it, then you can look it up when you want to use it. But if you have no awareness that a feature exists, then you won’t know to read the documentation when that feature would be useful. It’s possible to have a rough idea of what kinds of features exist, and guess when a feature might exist, then look at the documentation to check.

When using todos, notes or documentation, you have to keep some knowledge in your head, but not everything. The amount you remember could easily be under 10% of the written information and still be effective. The combination of you plus written information could effectively use over ten times as much information as you could use relying only on memory. This takes mental load off your conscious and subconscious, which frees up more brainpower for other things like learning, making progress, or remembering information about more topics.