At Cancer and Careers, we frequently hear from survivors struggling to maintain focus while working with “chemo brain.” In these circumstances, maintaining an itemized to-do list can be key to staying on track, plus there’s that awesome sense of satisfaction when we cross items off that list one at a time. What’s more so, according to a recent article in Fast Company, the act of creating and cultivating a to-do list over time actually benefits your brain regardless of whether or not you ultimately check items off that list. Here’s how:
- Writing strengthens your memory. Think back to when you used to take notes in school. Chances are you didn’t write down every word your teacher said during class — you summarized. In other words, your brain made a slew of micro-decisions about which info was essential to keep and which was less important. When you create a to-do list, your brain behaves similarly as you summarize your work tasks. And the fact is that the more you “mentally manipulate” information, the easier it is to remember it.
- To-do lists make the abstract specific and actionable. So many tasks we’re assigned at work are presented to us in broad strokes. For example, we may be charged with “organizing the year-end fundraiser” or “creating XYZ project proposal.” And how does any big project happen? Baby steps. By putting pen to paper to record those individual tasks you’ll warm up your brain and start identifying additional steps and/or approaches that weren’t immediately evident when your boss gave you the broad strokes.
- Actionable tasks clarify the big picture. Once you’ve identified and spent time considering what needs to be done, the next step is blocking out time on your calendar to address them. By planning for the long-term shifts, you can change your brain from reactively tackling tasks as they’re assigned to proactively prioritizing how your time is spent. Not only will pre-planning help to decrease stress levels (which can also negatively impact your ability to focus), it can also start to highlight ways in which you’ve been mis-prioritizing tasks, and that can result in greater levels of productivity over time.
“Working with Chemo Brain”
“Work & Your Cancer Treatment”
Living and Working with Cancer Workbook
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Working Through Treatment
Managing Long-Term Stress