Wednesday, November 25, 2015

How do you List?

My 2016 notepad-style page-a-day
calendar came in the mail yesterday.
As we enter the season of lists, I find myself thinking about the efficiency of my to-do lists. When I was first retired and had lots of time at my disposal, my lists were beautiful and organized. I utilized my notepad-style page-a-day calendar to its fullest extent, and never wondered where my to-do list was. I kept two, in fact: one master list and one daily list, a combination of my schedule for the day and items pulled from the master list and assigned to available times in the day.

When things get hectic and crazy, however, I revert to dash-and-run listing: no piece of paper or writing utensil is safe. I have lists on the counter, lists on my desk, lists in the car and one big list clipped to the front of my grade book. School lists form on the front-of-grade-book sheet, and miscellaneous lists made up of things I remember on the run form on notepads in my car, scrap paper, and the backs of receipts. Somehow, when I need lists the most, I fall into the most inefficient pattern of list-making possible.

Why on earth would any sane person do this?
  • Lack of time:  As time to do things shrinks, my fear of forgetting things grows. In my rush to get from Point A to Point B, I grab anything handy to write down the things that pop into my mind before they get away from me. 
  • Fear of the big list: I once watched a colleague create a list that spanned several pages of a legal pad. I felt panic-stricken for her and vowed never to create a list that long. Multiple small lists may be inefficient, but they're less terrifying.
  • Where is the big list anyway? Again, the dash from Point A to Point B and points beyond plays a role. If my master list for the day is at home on my desk, it's inaccessible when I'm not home. Writing things down somewhere quickly trumps writing things down in an assigned space. Not writing them down isn't even an option.
Writing things down is good. Scattering lists like bread crumbs is not.

I know what works for me (that's why I buy that notepad-style page-a-day calendar every year), but time management is no different from stuff management. When we're overwhelmed, we sometimes forget to stick to the plan. When we're really overwhelmed, we sometimes forget there is a plan.
The solution? Keep it simple. The fewer the lists, the better, but if, like me, you're overwhelmed by one big, long, master list, organize your lists by topic (to do, to buy, to call), by location (home, work, car/errands) or by day of the week. By all means, keep notepads in a variety of places to catch those stray thoughts, but tape, staple, clip or otherwise attach the wayward notes to the main list so you're not wasting time and energy looking for the right list.

Next week, I'll talk about some list-making tools I like. Until then, if you have one you especially like, please share it in the comments below.

Meanwhile, I hope you have many opportunities to enjoy my favorite part of list-making....

Checking things off.


  1. My biggest thing is catching those stray lists. I have to let go of vanity about how my planner/notebook looks and just get everything into one place!

  2. Catching stray lists has been on my to-do list for several days now....