The power of writing a list

I think any busy person should be a list maker. Writing a list when you are feeling under pressure creates a sense of order. A few words on a piece of paper (or in the notes on your phone) can give you a feeling of being in control, even if really you aren’t.

Why write a list?

At the very least, writing a list enables you to prioritise. Having all of the things you feel you need to do in black and white helps you to identify the easy wins and the things you need to do first.

If, like me, you have a bad memory, writing a list means you aren’t always forgetting important things. It once completely slipped my mind that I was supposed to be going out to dinner with friends. Instead I went home from work ravenous and stuffed my face with egg, chips and beans. When my friend rang to ask where I was I had to pretend I was running late, before rushing out to eat a second meal, this time with three courses and wine! And all because it wasn’t on my list…

Writing a list or two is crucial if you have lots to do but limited time to do it. Good time management, whether you are at home or work, makes you more productive. This obviously gives you more hours to get a few more jobs done if you need to. Importantly for me, though, it frees up some time to do some of the things I like to do: my yoga practice, a long walk with Mr Shoestring, even the opportunity to sit and do nothing. Everyone needs down time!

writing a listWriting a list and colour coding it

An important point when writing and then acting on your list: don’t just start at the top and work your way down. I usually circle the things I must do in red. If I am being ridiculously organised, I colour code my list from red (must do today), to orange (this week) to green (at some point).

If your list is too long, consider whether some of your green items could really be crossed off. Maybe you can make a separate ‘would like to achieve list’ for when you are less busy?

My list of lists

You can probably tell by now that I am an obsessive list maker. Writing a list negates any need I might ever have had for therapy I think. I have several lists on the go at any one time. Here is my current list of lists:

An ongoing shopping list

A list of meals for the week (a meal plan is, after all, just another list)

A work to-do list so I don’t forget important tasks or miss deadlines

A home to-do list

A long term would like to do list with things like future DIY projects on it

A blog to-do list

A calendar list. (When the kids were small I would write everything on the calendar. Sports days, a command to sign reading diaries, take dinner money, world book day costumes, etc. Now they are grown up I just write the things I need to worry about in my diary. I also do a back up of events on the calendar on my smart phone, which is great as it sends me reminders.)

This will be joined at various points by a holiday list, a Christmas list and a list for any other occasions that I need to focus on, such as when I have invited friends over for dinner (‘remind friends to come’!)

Retaining control

What a great feeling as you start to cross through those things on your list. You can see what you have achieved as you go.

However, if you find your lists are getting crazy long they can start to become counter productive. Your feelings of panic could start to overwhelm you if you realise that you just can’t achieve everything. I have a few strategies to cope with this. Firstly, be honest with yourself. Do you really need to write ‘have a shower’ on the list? If you are stuck for time, is getting your nails done actually essential?

I knew someone who used to write sh-sh-sh on his daily list. Shower, sh*t and shave. Well, it made him feel better, but those things were going to happen anyway, so they didn’t need to clog up his list. Focus your energies on things that are actually productive.

Break it down

It may be that some jobs on your list need to be broken down a bit to be manageable. For example, ‘decorate kitchen’ needs to be a series of much smaller achievable tasks. It deserves a list in its own right!

Once you have culled some of the items on the list, the next thing to do is delegate. If your car is infested with crisp wrappers and needs a clean, pass this job onto someone else. When you have kids or teenagers I expect they put the wrappers there in the first place, so it’s only fair they do their bit.

If there are too many jobs on your work list, have a word with your manager. Maybe some of your colleagues can help to take the strain.

I am an old fashioned sort and like pen and paper when I am writing a list. However, there is free software out there if you prefer a digital approach. I can’t recommend any but a quick Google found Todoist and another one called Remember the Milk.  The name itself appeals to my inner control freak!

Are you a fan of writing a list? How many do you have on the go?


10 thoughts on “The power of writing a list

  1. I have a friend who always writes (make a list ) as the first thing on her list – so even if nothing else gets done she can cross off that one!!

    Among my various lists I have a few on my computer of places I’d like to visit one day. It’s getting so long I’m either going to have to win the lottery, or live to 300!!

  2. I’m a list-maker too on the premise that if it’s on the list it isn’t cluttering up my head. You should see my diary!!! I write all over it and when work is really hectic I write on scrap paper every single thing that needs doing. It may look chaotic but it really works and I have to say I am very very organized because of it. My colleague who I work the closest with always has a desk like a dumpster too but he is EXTREMELY efficient and thorough. And as you say, it really does save time and frustration – I hate chasing my tail through being badly organized.

  3. I have always been a list maker and find that it just helps to keep me focussed and on course! Colleagues used to laugh at me at the office as I’d have my daily list on a notepad rather than on the computer but the mere act of writing things down helped me – and it always gives me great satisfaction to be able to cross things off!
    I have a good memory but as I get older I find that I can get distracted when out and about so I like to have my list of errands – the “To Be Done’s” for around the house, and my grocery list for the week or for the specials – it ensures that I don’t get annoyed with myself because I forgot to do that one thing that really needed to be done today!

  4. I’m definitely a list maker. At work I have a daily list and an ongoing list for bigger projects.
    At home I have one List at a time which shows things to do, things to buy, things to remember. I cross off and add to it for a few days, then rewrite it to ‘start again’.

  5. I too, am a list maker. Only us list makers can understand the feeling of satisfaction in crossing off items on our lists, as each is completed. (It also makes me feel rather smug and clever – the clever part could be disputed at times)

  6. I also keep a list of fun things I can do at short notice if I find myself with some “me” time – divided into indoor/outdoor so I can just pick something off the list whatever the weather!
    Too often I’ve spent the time I had available, faffing about wondering what to do with it! 🙁

  7. I have small lists of features I want a new product to have, just in case the old one breaks (for instance: a new waterkettle should have a little ball indicating the water height).

    Every day at work I write a list of 3 things to do at home that evening, on top of normal housekeeping. More than 3 and I get overwhelmed, less than 3 and I have the feeling the house / my life is falling apart. It has things on like polish shoes, fill in meter forms, compare energy tariffs, write card for X.

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