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Make A List, Check it Twice

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The Art of Making Lists

Many of us wouldn’t think of list-making as an art-form, but it is! Or at least, it can be. Lists are a huge part of our everyday lives – everywhere you look, lists are being made. Before we go to the store, we make a list of what we need to buy, in college we write down a list of when things are due, on Facebook we make list(s) of 25 random things about ourselves, David Letterman’s Top 10 list has become a staple (and usually the most entertaining) part of his show. Why is it everywhere we turn there are list’s being made? How can one harness the power of list-making? How do you benefit from making a list? Lists are an extremely important tool, and looking at a generation of Gen-Y’ers who are faced with the developing recession and rising unemployment rates, making a list can give you the self-affirmation you need to remain optimistic through these difficult times.And the best part is, they’re easy to do. Got a pen? How about a piece of paper? Great, because that’s all you need to make the magic happen!

Relax, this is going to be easy

Breath, Stretch, Shake, Let it Go: At the start of every day, I relax and clear my mind – thinking about what I need to get done, first on THAT particular day, and then, if there are some big projects or tasks looming ahead, I’ll put those into perspective and include those as well. Then, just write – don’t think about it too much, write down everything you can think of that you have to or would like to get done – don’t worry about prioritizing yet, getting your thoughts down on paper is the first thing you want to do. You can never write ‘too much’ on a list – it’s inevitable that some things will get bumped to tomorrow’s list – but that’s OK – don’t stifle your own thoughts – lay it all out there.

The ol’ Reach around: Once you have everything down on paper, it’s time to reach back around and prioritize – for me, the simple asterisk works great. Put a star by the points that ‘Have to’ get done – most likely, you probably thought of these things first anyone, so they usually end up near the top of your list. And if it makes you feel better, you can break the other points into ‘Need to’, ‘Want to’ and ‘Like to’ categories, but I like to keep things simple.

And that’s it – really, that’s all there is to it! Getting everything down in writing & organizing your thoughts is sometimes the hardest part of this whole process. But once you organize your thoughts, it helps you to montetize what you have to and want to get done – which brings me to my next list within a list…

Why lists are important (and why you should give a damn)

Help to Remember: This is the obvious benefit of list-making. They help us to remember things – because forgetting to get something done that you had to get done three days ago; never a good situation.

Bring Order to Chaos: It’s all about organization and structure. Yes, your friends might point and laugh when they see your post-it collection and spiral notebook full of lists, but in the end, you’ll have the last laugh when you realize how much more productive you are than they are. There are only so many hours in the day – it’s far too easy to get caught up in the chaos and loose track of your priorities. Where do you think Santa would be without his list? Naughty kids would be getting Lite Brite’s and Hannah Montana CD’s and the nice would be stuck with coal and socks. I’m talking total and utter anarchy. Restore balance and be one with the list.

Limit Procrastination: We all love to put things off – or even when we don’t love it, we do it anyways – it’s a part of life. Lists help to reduce procrastination – they reinforce the things you want to accomplish. And yes, you can always put something off and write it on tomorrow’s list. But odds are, you’ll get it done sooner rather than later.

Relieve Stress: By restoring that balance, you can find your center and relieve a lot of stress. It may seem a little obsessive-compulsive, but I make lists daily, and include the biggest of tasks to the smallest ideas. If I have to pay my rent, it goes on the list, meet a deadline at work, goes on the list – but things like ‘write a blog about making lists’, ‘run 3 miles’, ‘email Mom’ – those go on the list too, and while they may not SEEM as important, to me personally – they mean everything and affirm productivity.

They’re a display of Awesomeness: This is probably, no, it is THE biggest payoff of making a list – and checking things off of it. It gives you visual self-affirmation of how productive you have been. For those of you who are out of the workforce, looking for a job, dealing first hand with the current state of the economy – it’s extremely easy to get disheartened and fall into the mindset of ‘I’m not going anywhere, I’m not getting anything done‘ – a list can really help with this. Write down what you want to accomplish, set achieveable goals for yourself. ‘Send resume to 5 companies’, ‘update LinkedIn profile’ comment on 5 business blogs today’ – Write things down, get things done, and everytime you draw a line through something you’ve accomplished – breath a sigh of relief and give yourself a pat on the back, because you deserve it.

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  1. If everyone realized that lists relieve stress the world would be a much cooler calmer place. I used to freak out and get all panicky about all the things I had to do. I'd try to be organized or jot things down in a calendar but it never worked. I used every digital tool I could get my hands on to try and optimize but still couldn't find a method that worked for me.

    Bought me a moleskine and just started bulletpointing everything. Forget organization or whether they have anything to do with eachother – paying the credit card bill and creating a project plan for something at work were next to eachother. Overtime the organization of lists comes naturally and it actually is an art in and of itself.

    BTW – Journler is the best desktop application (Mac only) that I found for keeping my thoughts organized.

  2. I love lists as well. My issue tends to be around… where do I keep my list? Are all my lists separate or together? My goal is to go 100% paperless within the next 5 years and a phone that organizes all that might be the perfect solution. Until then, I have a grocery list in my kitchen, a project list at the office, a blog list in OneNote, a personal growth list in my journal, etc. And occasionally, that frustrates me more than having no list at all.

  3. @Rikin – I agree that making lists can be somewhat of an art form, and over time – it comes naturally. Easy to do, difficult to master – time management is an ongoing learning process. But I know, at least for me, making lists is an essential part of my routine in order to maintain my sanity. And there is something that is self-satisfying when you can draw a dark line through something once you've done it. It allows you to visualize and actualize your own productivity.

  4. @Eva – For me, I have one centralized list that encompasses everything I want to do. My long term goals, that's a different story. But things I want to get done that day or within the foreseeable future, those go on a (usually) daily list. Of course there are some items that get pushed back to tomorrow's list, and the next day's list – but they will eventually get done and they stay fresh on my mind if I can see it in front of me.

    I would love to go paperless myself, but I have tried typing out my lists and it just isn't the same for me. Like I mentioned in my reply to Rikin, there is something self satisfying about being able to take a sharpie and cross through each item on the list as it get's done. The transition to virtual-list-making will be a tricky one for me.