We love lists. There are whole blogs and websites dedicated to lists, (many of which I wish would buzz off..!) tireless click bate sucking us in. Lists can be great though, we make and refer to them all the time: to-do lists, shopping lists, wish lists, bucket lists, top 10 lists… look I made a list of lists. A meta list, if you will.
The attraction of lists is obvious: they give us manageability and quantify goals. They give us a sense of achievement (which is why I am a huge advocate of writing at least two things you’ve already completed on any list, just to have something to tick off!) and allow us to celebrate success and feel in control.
Feeling in control is something a lot of us are searching for in our hectic, helter skelter lives. And it’s great how a pen, piece of paper and some bullet points can help give that to us. For example, here is a list of lists I used this week:
- shopping list
- short term to-do list
- long term to-do list
- to-read list
Problematically though, lists are a closely related to checking, which is a cousin of obsessing. Mental check lists, useful for collecting your thoughts, become dangerous when they are required to get out of the door. Oven – check; hair straighteners – check; iron – check; taps – check… these become lists that inhibit rather than advance, cause fuzziness rather than clarify.
Physical lists can also be the proverbial fly in the ointment. There is an art to making a good list: Add too little, and guilt will always creep in, making the completion of the list a hollow victory. Add too much, and the amount by which you’re overwhelmed is right there in front of you in black and white. What a pickle we can end up in!
So, do we love or ditch the pesky list? Embrace the organisation or the chaos? No, we just have to be clear about what makes a good list and what makes a bad list. And just to embrace this topic, (i.e. take it too far), here’s a list of good list-making etiquette for a happy, organised and not too pedantic look at life:
A List of Lists, Including Top Tips For An Effective List Life
- Shopping lists – cut down on waste at the supermarket by knowing what you need in advance. (But it’s fine not to include chocolate biscuits and buy them anyway.)
- To-do lists – include a maximum of five things you know you can do and a maximum of two things you hope to achieve. Forgive yourself if you only get two things done.
- To-read lists – because when you finish a good book, you don’t want to be wasting time finding new things to read.
- “One day” lists – dreams and goals needn’t be written down, but having a mental list of things you’d like to achieve one day is almost impossible not to have. If you write them down though, prioritise. Realistically, winning an oscar is probably less likely than climbing the Eiffel Tower (although, book ahead, those queues can be long..!)
- Wish Lists – it’s okay to want things, (or to “would like” things if you were brought up to the tune of I want doesn’t get – too right, mum!) where wanting is ambition and keeps you driven. Don’t ever forget the other, much more important list though. The list that I’ve left until last, but should come first…
- The Grateful List – the longer this list, the better. Remembering all the people and things for which you are grateful make all the incomplete to-do lists, all the forgotten groceries, and the unattainable wishes much less significant. It reminds you of what you’ve got going for you, and why you never need to complete another list ever again.