Making a list: Why and how

The power of making lists of plans or goals is often highlighted as a major tool in self organisation and self improvement. But why is making a list so effective? And also, how many lists do you have to create in order to get the best out of this activity? Here are some ideas about it.

First of all, it’s important to remember that we create a list to prioritize our activities and plans. So the main purpose of making a list should be to define what are the most relevant activities to do at the moment, rather than building up a neverending succession of things to accomplish in a given order. Lists are meant to simplify our life, not to add up stress or chaos to our routine. So, after making a list of 10 potential activities to do in one day, be prepared to cut out at least 7-8 elements in order to effectively focus on the relevant topics. This type of list is what we call a daily list: a one-use tool for organisation and clarity.

This brings us to the second question: how many lists should we create, and when? Should we feel bad if we cannot accomplish every goal on the list?

Let’s start by saying that a list comes definitely with an expiration date attached. How close/far this date is, depends on the nature of the list. Activity lists are typically meant to organize a day or a week, while goals lists can be used and retrieved for months.

But again, a list is not a map: it’s just a tool. Don’t expect to faithfully follow your list order and accomplish every single element of your list. This rarely happens, and in my experience it takes a lot of unnecessary effort. Even in goal setting lists, don’t expect to come back to your list in a month or two finding you accomplished every single element on the list.

Instead, I suggest you try this method: make a list, focus on the top 3 priorities on the list and accomplish them, then discard the list. Afterwards, create a new updated list, focus and accomplish the top 3 priorities, and discard the list again. And so on…

This is especially valid for activity lists, since they are a very powerful tool for our day-to-day organisation. In the end, don’t be afraid to create and discard lists on a daily basis. Every time you’ll be able to accomplish a goal or follow your plan, you’ll build up confidence in yourself and in your self discipline. Because this is the key element of every list: keeping you in contact with your productive side.


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