As much as I love computers and gadgets, noneof them have ever replaced my need for yellow legal pads. (although I do find myself using OmniFocus more and more for my projects & assorted lists…there is still something about writing stuff out on paper.)
I am constantly making list, crossing items off and then starting a new list…the recycling bin in my office is mostly crumpled up sheets of yellow paper. As an INTJ (Myers-Briggs) I am always thinking in terms of strategies & systems. It doesn’t matter if it is at church, at home, planning a trip, or playing a game…my brain is naturally wired to figure out how something works and then work the system.
Well, one of the things that I’ve found so helpful in getting done the things I need to get done is making to-do lists. Here are 5 reasons I’ve found them to be helpful.
1) Lists help me remember important things.
I think the longest stretch I ever went through was 4 days in a row, but I confess I’ve had those days where I’m in the shower, realize we are out of soap or shampoo, and then don’t remember again until the next day when I’m back in the shower reaching for the shampoo. And while that isn’t a big deal (unless you have to sit by me that day…or especially day 4), the fact is, throughout the day there all kinds of ideas that pop in my head of things I should do, and unless I write them down, most likely I won’t remember them again until it is to late.
2) Lists reduce stress
With preparing to move to Ireland, there are a number of things that we need to accomplish. For the first several months of planning, Liz and I both had ideas of things that needed to happen, but everything was mostly floating in the ether. But once we took the time to sit down and make a list (a very long list), everything felt much more manageable. We were able to see the bigger picture; see how one thing lead to another; recognize that there are certain things, that though important cannot be done until a later date.
It also gave us the assurance, that now that it was down on paper, it was not going to be forgotten.
3) Lists keep important ideas fresh in my mind.
I tried an experiment with my to do list this week. I wrote a list of 7 or 8 things that were missing, that I wanted to find. It included my wedding ring (took off pre-surgery), a couple of books, a charger, and a few other items. Now, the ring was easy, I just needed to remember to look…I normally only remembered when I was somewhere other than our apartment. But the two books, one had been missing over a year, the other about two. Earlier this week I was talking to Erin Smith about a TED talk I’d watched last week…it was in fact by the author of the book that had been missing for two years. As I began to tell her about the main point of his talk, she asked me his name, and when I repeated it, she said “that is so weird, Ivan was talking to me last night and said he has the copy of your book by that guy.”
I mentioned that story to my wife and she said, “you know some of your books are on the shelf in my office right?” I didn’t, but guess which book was one of the several of mine sitting on her shelf!”
Those two books have been missing for a long time…Occasionally I’d look, but what are the chances I’d be in Ivan’s apartment and decide to look for my missing books? But the simple fact of putting a group of lost items on my to do list moved them to the front of my mind and they even ended up in conversations with people. And within 3 days, every item on my list, other than a charger, has been found.
4) Crossing stuff off a list (accomplishing a task) is energizing.
Since I’m still recovering from my surgery, I’ve found myself much more easily tired than normal. I’ve been going home earlier in the afternoon catching a nap and then working again later. One night this week, I’d gotten not much of anything done, and was sitting there with my list & thought what can I do in less than 5 minutes? Once that was done, I found another short task. And with each one I completed, I felt energized and was able to spend about 90 minutes knocking stuff off of my list.
I’ll find the same thing when I get stuck with writing a message. Often after writing for a while my brain will feel like it is stuck in mud and does not want to do anymore thinking. Having a list which often includes things that require not a lot of thinking feels very refreshing and allows me to return to my more “brain-intensive” task in a much better state.
5) Keeping lists frees you to enjoy life and others.
Have you ever noticed that when you sit down to pray, or read the bible all the things you need to do over the course of the day come to mind? Calls to make, appointments to keep, errands to run. All urgent…all make you think if I forget this, it’ll mess up my day.
Or you’re having a conversation with another person and the same thing happens, and rather than listening to them, you mind is wandering thinking about all of the things you need to do, or at least obsessing on the one that just popped into your head.
By having a list in your pocket that you carry with you…you can simply write down the thought on you list, assured that it will not be forgotten, and then return to be fully present with God, or with the person you happen to be with.
A couple suggestions:
The best type of to-do list is one that you will actually use. You might work well with something like OmniFocus, or another piece of software…I’ve used a small Moleskin note that would fit in my back pocket…my friend James simply carried around a scrap piece of paper (his list is pretty amazing & you should ask him if you can see it sometime). But again, the big thing is, find something that works for you.
How about you? Are you a list maker? Why or why not?
* Photo Credit : Courtney Dirks
Also published on Medium.