Whether you are moving house, planning your next shopping spree or preparing for your work week, lists are an invaluable way to achieve your goals.  Sometimes we think that more complex tools to organise our lives are necessary, but the simple list is more than up to the task.  I use lists every day and in a variety of different ways.

Why are lists so invaluable?  Firstly, by getting things out of our heads and onto paper or our computer, we clear our minds to think more clearly.  David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, says that there is no real way to achieve what he calls ‘a relaxed control’ of your life, if we keep things only in our heads.  When we record everything that we intend to do in our lives (and in a way that is easy to retrieve), then we don’t need to worry about forgetting something.  If we don’t capture our work tasks, activities and even long term plans, our mind tends to remind us of them periodically, even when we can’t do anything about them now.  This constant ‘background noise’ can be quite stressful and impacts on our ability to fully concentrate on what we are doing right now.

Secondly, lists give us a complete picture of what is going on in our lives, and can therefor help us to prioritise. When we step back and look at everything together, we can start to make decisions about what is really important and what can wait until another day, week or year.  Without doing this, we often tend to be reactive, rather than strategic about how we plan our day’s activities.  Lists help us to respond to the demands put on us by others.

Lists also help us to experience progress.  Crossing a task off a list makes us feel good, that we have accomplished something. For a particular project, lists can be used to record what we have done and what still needs to be done. If we feel that we have not accomplished much, it can be good to go back to our list to remind ourselves of the progress we have already made.

There are a range of lists that we can use:

  • Checklists – For ticking off activities or items, e.g. a list of items to take on holiday.
  • To-do lists – A list of tasks to be done, usually daily or weekly, and which you can prioritise.
  • Pros and cons list – A good tool for making big decisions, e.g. choosing a new car.
  • Shopping list – A list of items to purchase.
  • A wish list or bucket list – A longer term list of items to buy or activities you would like to do one day.
  • Whether we write our lists on paper or on the computer, it is important to not make our system too complicated.  Shorter lists are fine for paper (e.g. a short shopping or errands list in a diary). Working on the computer has the advantage of being able to shift the items around easily, especially to prioritise activities.  My husband created a tasks spreadsheet in Excel a few years ago, which I still use today to prioritise activities. The beauty of the spreadsheet is that I can show activities only for today or for the whole year.  By simplifying just to today, I can focus on what needs to be done now, while still knowing that all of the other tasks are captured and can be recalled at any time.

    To end on a lighter note, Knock Knock Pads has produced some fun lists that can help you to get things out of your head and onto paper. These include a Pack This! pad, All Out Of list, Make a Decision pad, The Long List and The Short List, Parents Night Out list and several others.  They are available to purchase from Exclusive Books at around R100 each.

    Vicky Sim is a professional organiser based in Durban, South Africa with a passion for helping her clients to transform their space and simplify their lives.

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