Microsoft To-Do is good for our mental health

It may seem like a strange statement to make and many will immediately deny it and talk about how a software product is not usually something that we consider good for our heath, unless it is re-enforcing our belief that we are doing enough exercise!

The reason I believe that this statement is true is based on the following reasons:

Creating a task reduces the burden

In 1927, Soviet psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik published On Finished and Unfinished Tasks,  an investigation into how we remember tasks.  She determined that we remember incomplete tasks much more than we remember completed tasks.  So what I hear you ask?  Well, if you suffer from anxiety or stress you are likely to have woken up in the middle of the night thinking of that incomplete task that you have to do.

Interestingly, this research was taken further in 2011 by Masicampo and Baumeister in there article for the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Consider It Done! Plan Making Can Eliminate the Cognitive Effects of Unfulfilled Goals.  In this article they verified the Zeigarnik effect but also demonstrated that it is reduced if subjects were able to plan for the completion of the task.

The upshot is that if you have a task to do and do not plan for how you are going to complete it, you are more likely to have it stick in your mind, and potentially raise its self in your consciousness at inconvenient times, like 3 in the morning!

Tip: Keep Microsoft To-Do open so you can take note of the tasks that you need to do and plan for how you will complete them.

Ticking off a task as completed gives us a hit of dopamine

Yes, this is true: we are actually addicted to completing tasks.  Although many of us never realise it as we don’t psychologically “complete” tasks on a regular basis.

Dopamine does many things to the human brain but the main thing it does is make us feel good.  If you find that doing something makes you feel good, it’s a safe bet that you have had a small hit of dopamine.

So how does this work with the completion of tasks?

Have ever used a physical Kanban board and started the week with a bunch of cards on the left of the board identifying the tasks you have to complete in the week and then, during the week, you have moved them all so that by Friday you have them all in the “Done” column.  If you have, I bet that felt good and you left for a well deserved weekend feeling relaxed and proud that you completed everything that you needed to do.  That is the effect of dopamine.

So how does this work with Microsoft To-Do?

There are two features in Microsoft To-Do that allow you to get that dopamine hit:

  1. Start the week by flagging tasks you intend to complete in the week as important
  2. Start each day by adding the tasks you intend to complete in the day to “My Day”

The hard bit is to complete them all on time, but if you do, you will have earned you hits of dopamine and will probably have started building the habit of completing tasks.

Summary

Microsoft To-Do can reduce the likelihood that incomplete tasks play on your mind by allowing you to plan to complete them.  It can help you get hits of dopamine by letting you flag tasks for completion in the week, and for completion in the day.

Unfortunately we still have to actually do the tasks, Microsoft To-Do won’t do our tasks for us 🙁