Many people create and use to do lists to stay on top of their professional responsibilities or daily chores. Research shows these lists to be a highly effective organizational tool that helps people stay on task and accomplish more. This is in part because to do lists help focus our brains on our top priorities, helping us bypass the confusion our minds can sometimes fall into when we are tasked with processing too much information all at once.

But as helpful as a to do list is in getting us through day-to-day challenges and tasks, it has even greater power to help reshape our lives over the long term. By writing a list of just five things you would like to be less of and five things you would like to be more of in your professional life can have a powerful and lasting impact on your business acumen and overall success.

We all have our strengths and weaknesses. As dedicated professionals and, in a more general sense, self-aware human beings, we are cognizant of our goals and the ways to achieve them even if we do not note them down in explicit fashion. But the process of writing down five things to do less of or tone down and five things to strengthen or pursue more of can reorient our thinking by helping us zero in on some of the most critical aspects of our goals. Furthermore, it can help us step back to see the big picture instead of focusing only on individual details, which have the potential to bog us down without an overarching view of why they matter. Alternatively, if your list focuses very specifically on individual details, it can help you write the narrative of the big picture as you begin to see a step-by-step process.

Writing such a list will also help you more clearly remember your goals and how to achieve them. A written list is a quick reference point to trigger the right memory recall mechanism in our brains. This, in turn, can also serve as a quick way to track your progress on a specific goal and compare it to how well you are doing on moving closer to the overarching objective. Writing a list of goals can also help you compare them in a visual fashion. You may discover that one or more of them are so closely related that they can be merged, leaving you with room to add something else to your list that is more substantially different. The act of writing your goals will also help fight off a conscious or unconscious avoidance of taking steps to further your goals.

Remember, your list is meant to serve as a guide to help you advance in your career. Therefore, it does not need to be set in stone. Over time, you may find yourself accomplishing some or all of your goals, or you may discover that your goals have evolved. Flexibility is part of the system, so feel free to change things on your list if your goals or circumstances have changed. However, flexibility is not a get out of jail free card. Making incremental changes to your list as necessary can be helpful, but discarding most of your written goals or the entire list altogether will be counterproductive.