I had a realization this morning, as I was making a list of things to do and two of the items on that list included making another list. The realization probably should have been, “I have a problem.” But no, the realization was this: “Lists make me happy.” I don’t mean happy in the sense that I have fun while I’m writing down the sixteen items that need to be done today. What makes me happy is coming back throughout the day to mark off each item as it gets done. Even better is getting rid of that nagging feeling that I’m forgetting something. I just jot it down, and it’s official. I have not forgotten. I just haven’t done it yet.
Lists are a procrastinator’s best friend, and no one procrastinates as proficiently as I do. My husband claims I’ve made it into an art form. My coworkers used to call me “Scarlett”, after Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind saying, “I’ll think of that tomorrow,” or something to that effect. Hey, at least I’m consistent. But there are times when procrastination can produce stress. Like waking up the Monday after Thanksgiving and realizing you haven’t started Christmas shopping yet, or worse, shopping for your mother-in-law’s birthday, which is in 4 days. These are the times when you need a list to get your heart rate back down.
So, to procrastinate on my gift shopping for just a bit longer, I am giving you my secret recipe for a great list. Alright, let’s call it what it is: A list for how to make a list. I can’t tell you what to put on your lists, but I can tell you how to create them in a way that will make life easier for you, and just might make you calmer and happier, especially at this hectic time of year.
- Pen and Paper. I’ve tried a dry-erase board and using my computer or phone, but I have a problem with lists where you just delete the item once it’s done. Then you can’t look back and see everything you’ve accomplished. At the end of the day, you’re only left with a list of things you haven’t done yet, taunting you, calling you a failure. Instead, write your thoughts on paper and have fun crossing out each item as it gets done.
See how much better this looks… …than this? (Same list.)
- Brainstorm. Throw everything you can think of on your list, with no editing. I believe that making a list is like brainstorming. It takes a certain part of your brain to get everything out of your head and onto paper. It takes a different part of your brain to go through the step-by-step process that requires getting the project done. I don’t know if this has been scientifically determined to be the case, but it sounds good to me. Anyone with neuro-psych experience care to weigh in here?
- Add To It. As you go through the day, you inevitably perform many tasks that didn’t originally make it onto your list. I think you should write them down, even if you’ve already done them. This way you can see that you’ve been spending your time on worthwhile things, even if you haven’t made much progress on your original list. There have been times when I’ve even put “pick up kids from school” on my list, just to remind me that those little things are important to someone. Besides, what can be more encouraging on a busy day than writing something down and immediately being able to cross it off?
- Be Done With It. At the end of the day or project, you probably have a few items that didn’t get done. I like to cross those off my list, and start a new list for tomorrow. Then I look with satisfaction at all the crossed-off lines of today’s list (let’s not get too hung up on the reality of not actually getting to all of them), crumple it into a ball, and toss it in the trash. Ahhh. Done. Relish the moment, and when you start thinking of all the things still to be done, put them on tomorrow’s list so you can stop worrying about them today.
Obviously there is no right or wrong way to make a list. These are just some of the things that help me. So if you’re feeling stress this holiday season, try making a list. It worked for Santa!