The Psychology Of Productivity: Expert Advice On How To Manage An Endless To-do list & Control Stress

Is your to-do list on average 10+ items long? Is your list constantly growing? Are the tasks on your list SO complex that they need a separate to-do list? Then this is for you!

Checking tasks off a to-do list is great for boosting your motivation. However, in stressful times an endlessly long list can also stand in the way of being productive and stress-free.
Time management method ‘Personal Kanban’ suggests that we should limit the tasks we are working on. Jim Benson, author of Personal Kanban: Mapping Work – Navigating Life, based his method on an old Japanese concept (‘kanban’ means ‘sign board’) that was used by Toyota in order to avoid overproduction. By limiting tasks and visualizing which tasks are currently in progress, work OVERLOAD can be reduced.

Why is Personal Kanban An Effective Time Management Method?

Do you sometimes feel like your brain has too many tabs open? When you are working on many different tasks but not really finishing any, your mind can become scattered. Having a long to-do list at the end of the day can take a huge toll on your cognitive performance. Why does this happen?
The Zeigarnik Effect, as described in These 5 Easy Tricks Will Help You Stay Motivated Every Day According To Science, states that our brains remember unfinished tasks better than finished tasks. Although this is helpful in normal situations, it can lead to serious stress issues when people face an endless to-do list which they can’t escape from after working hours.
Psychologists Roy Baumeister and E.J. Masicampo studied this Zeigarnik effect and the influence on our performance. Participants were asked to do a simple task which they could not finish before participating in a brainstorm session. During the session they performed significantly less that participants who were given the chance to plan how they would finish the task after the brainstorm session. This finding was supported by Brandon Smit who showed that planning unfinished tasks helps people to think about it less.


A great way to worry less about work or what you have to do the next day is to already plan out the remaining tasks. This will ease your mind when you are not working and it will remove the activity from your working memory.

How Does Personal Kanban Work?

If you want the put the ‘Personal Kanban’ method into practice, it’s pretty simple. Create three columns on a board or paper and write: ‘To do’, ‘In process’ and ‘Done’. Now limit the tasks you are working on (‘In process’) to about 3 items. You can also color code the type of tasks you are working on so you instantly see which items take up the most of your time. You can find more details on how to put this method into practice here.

Will you try this out?