I love making lists. In fact, lists of all sorts organize and drive big parts of my life. I scrawl grocery lists, make quick lists of what I need to accomplish each day, make detailed lists of my tasks at work, keep lists of books I want to read, make lists of financial goals I want to achieve each year and — this one’s weird — I even make a list of every single article of clothing I’ll need to pack before I leave on a business trip or vacation. Call me anal, call me obsessive, call me a Type A personality — just give me a pen a piece of paper so I can keep track.
A List Is an Idol
For me, and I suspect for many others, list-making is an exercise in meditation. It’s a clearing of the mind long enough to understand what needs to be done, what gets priority, and how many of our to-dos are interrelated and mutually dependent. Lists become a way to not only keep several balls in the air (a juggling trick many readers have practiced to perfection), but also a way to structure our days, or weeks, or months so that all of these little lists add up to some serious accomplishments.
A List Is a Promise
There’s something about making lists that’s supremely active. After all, isn’t making a list the very first step in achieving everything on it? Isn’t writing down what needs to be done a sort of declaration that you intend to do it? I think so. An honest and well-intentioned list is a promise to your future self, even if that future is just eight hours or a week away. Together, the humble list and the reflective list-maker plot to get things done — and it’s all documented on sticky-notes, on the backs of receipts, in daily planners, on our laptops and smart phones, on blackboards and whiteboards — even in the dust on the dashboards of our cars.
My personal list-making process has been refined by years of trial and error. It goes something like this.
- I make each day’s list the night before in my daily planner (a cheap little thing that I buy for $2.29 at my local dollar store quite ceremoniously every January).
- As I complete each task, I check it off my list — an act that’s so sweetly satisfying that I blush to write about it here (die-hard list-makers, you know what I mean). The goal is to have nothing but a series of checkmarks by day’s end (and that’s a good day indeed, a red-wine-before-bed kind of day).
- Whatever I didn’t accomplish from the previous day gets carried over to the next.
- I review my lists briefly at the end of each day, considering what I accomplished or didn’t accomplish as I craft a more realistic and strategic list for the next day. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I have some serious nerd tendencies (a moniker I wear with pride), but I truly enjoy these end-of-day list reviews. It’s as if in these moments I’m able to tell myself, “If you accomplished nothing else today, at least you did these things.”
The list creation and list review become bookends to my day, and the cycle seems to work.
In our multitasking world where we’re expected to check email, complete a report, and review a spreadsheet all while driving and cooking a nutritious meal, lists are a line drawn in the sand of insanity. They are a methodical, reasonable, wonderfully old-fashioned method of getting things done consciously. Lists are a nod to the joy and the wisdom of mono-tasking; they’re a way to carve out some mental space to plan, to keep a healthy pace, and really complete a task before moving on to the next. And when you factor in those hard won checkmarks, well…let’s just say that list-making can be deeply rewarding.