Introducing the new to-do: a visual one.

To-do: a to-do list. 

It would be fair to say that a couple of times a week you think of the above, right? It is human to forget the tasks we need to complete. So, we make lists. But, does that help with remembering things? For some it does, and for some it doesn’t. If you fall in the latter category, we have a solution – draw your to-do. This increases the chances of your remembering it.

Let’s try it out. Take a pen and paper. Draw one thing you’d like to do this week. Let it be a simple line drawing. Want to take your car to the mechanic? Then draw a little car or a wrench. Or if you have to send a project proposal to your manager, depict it symbolically. Draw a wedding ring! Do this and put the paper away where you can’t see it. We’ll come back to this.

According to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, the three-act technique of picturing something in your mind, putting pen to paper to draw it, then looking at your drawing, is a powerful memory recall technique. Why? There are two reasons:

  • Says Dr. Wammes of Yale University, drawing encourages “an integration of semantic, visual and motor aspects of memory.” Picturing something and sketching it forces us to focus on the defining aspects of an object — say, the differences between a tiger and a lion. This allows for better recall. 
  • When you add more forms of processing to your learning (using visuals to communicate instead of words; or converting the literal into metaphors), it activates new neural pathways of your brain. As a result, you make more associations and connections with what you already know. That’s neuroplasticity, which changes how you learn.

We may feel our drawings aren’t good enough. But, it is just for your memory. Don’t attach an aesthetic value to it. So, how can you use this to your advantage?

  • Combine words and images. If in the exercise above, you drew the ring for sending the proposal, write the name of the day for when you want to send it. Bringing together words and visuals allows you to exercise your creativity and playfulness, while drilling down on specifics.
  • Create boxes, not a list. Divide your paper into boxes, like a chessboard, and use each cube for one task. Even stick post-it notes there. This in itself changes how you go about your to-do. Draw the tasks for which you find imagery easily. If it’s a struggle, write it. You’ll have a fun work graphic at the end.

It may take a bit more time to create such lists, but it is worth the effort. Let’s now think about the task you drew earlier – what do you recall? Chances are, more details than before.

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