Productivity, Work
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18 Reasons I Love Lists — And You Should Too

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(Photo: Margit Detweiler/ TueNight)

Like the headline says, I love lists. And obviously you do too, otherwise you wouldn’t click all those bulleted, “34 Reasons Why Dennis Quaid is the Hottest Movie DILF Ever” listicles. (Yes that’s a real oneWith math behind it.)

When I can’t sleep, I make mental lists. I craft acronyms in the shower to remember my tasks. FLAD = Feed cat; Laundry; AT&T bill; make that Dentist appointment. While subway riding over the Manhattan Bridge I make lists on my phone.

The thing is, I really love keeping lists everywhere. This has nothing to do with being organized. I have approximately 13 to-do lists going at any one time, across several different platforms.

You think I’m kidding.

7 Ways I Am Not Kidding:

  1. A few Word docs variously titled ToDo, ToDo-NOW!
  2. An Excel spreadsheet where I attempt to organize my life in tabs
  3. A Google doc that’s a variation of that sheet, but accessible cloud-style
  4. An iPhone Notes list that I usually craft on said subway ride
  5. Voice-activated emails to myself as I walk down the street “Buy Tepee. Delete delete predictive text.  BUY TP!”
  6. Evernote where I’ve photographed my to-do lists and turned them into electronic reminders. Very cool, rarely used.
  7. A scrap of paper laying nearby that lists out what I need to do right now

Ironically or not, that last method is usually the most effective. I have this fantasy where all of my lists are distilled into one amazing system — so far, no dice.

I’m most productive when I take 10 minutes to chart the length of time I think each task will take — I do the math, figure the priorities, tick off each task as I do them in order, and turn my to-do list into one giant, accomplishable solution. Bliss.

There’s true satisfaction in that single strikethrough. DONE.

Not all of my lists are so task-oriented or benign. I have a list of men I’ve had any romantic entanglement with (one forgets). Thanks to blogger Maggie Mason I have a Life List of 100 things I’d like to do before I keel over. I forced myself to include the selfish and selfless — write a novel, attend SNL, throw a Swedish Christmas party replete with glogg, teach a child to read.

At a very early age, I learned that things just don’t happen without lists.

My mom has always kept her daily to-do lists on 3 x 5 cards and she’s never really veered from this system. When I go home to visit, I see those cards with notations in pencil, often I’ll spot my own name, Margit visits.

And yes, I get crossed out.

As a kid, I adored the 1973 children’s book Frog and Toad Together. In the story “A List,” dear Toad writes his daily to-do list and then a gust of wind blows it away. He’s unable to do much of anything without his list (especially because “running after his list” was not on his list). Without his list, he’s ultimately stymied. (A Beckett-like conundrum). Until finally he remembers that “Go to Sleep” was last on his last, so he writes “Go to Sleep” in the dirt with a stick, and goes to sleep.

I recently stumbled on a McSweeney’s List (they have a whole LISTS section. Swoon.) where the writer offers five possible diagnoses for the depressed Toad, including Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Agoraphobia with a few possible treatments including fish oil and trail separation from Frog.

Ben Franklin was a lister. Writer Ann Friedman is a master lister. And our oft contributor Gretchen Rubin, of course. Brain Pickings chronicles some of the best lists of all time. I happen to love #3 in Woody Guthrie’s 33-point “New Years Rulin’s” — “Wash teeth if any.”

Lists are what I do before I do it. And as I get older, I rely on them more and more — inundated with information, my memory getting piece-y and selective, so the lists become multifarious and necessary. Right?

And as I seek out that one perfect system, I’ll probably still keep my lists here, there and everywhere. It’s one of my favorite forms of procrastination. List-making should be on my list.

Oh you’re wondering where the 18 Reasons Are? Oh come on, it’s just a headline.

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Editor’s Note: Your Kiss Is On My List | Tue Night

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