I’ve been writing lists since I was a pre-teen. It first started because I was having trouble getting all of my homework done. Not because I couldn’t or wouldn’t do it, but because I kept forgetting what all had to be done! Once the teacher suggested I write things down, I turned in almost everything – and on time!
I once heard someone say that writing to-do lists is a horrible idea, but she was talking about how people stress themselves out with unrealistic lists of things to do. I said I think it depends on how they’re used. Yes, like any other tool, there are good ways and bad ways to use lists. If someone makes a list and continuously adds to it, and all is does is stress them out, then I agree – lists in that situation are a really bad thing. But, for someone like me, writing lists is a very good thing. It helps me to remember some things that I really need to accomplish (like doing taxes) that I might otherwise forget. But most importantly, it actually can help me sleep. There are some nights that I can’t fall asleep because I keep thinking about all of the things I need to do, and my mind won’t let me sleep. When that happens, I grab the pen and paper next to my bed and write it all down. Once I do, I can almost always fall right to sleep. In the morning, I can look at the list and it helps me focus on what needs to be done, making me more productive. Of course, since I actually get more sleep by writing everything down, those lists do double duty – getting enough sleep definitely makes me a more productive person. So, by writing a to-do list, I get can be better rested, wake up feeling refreshed, and then can concentrate better and quickly focus on what needs to be done. Once I have my mental game plan, I’m more likely to accomplish what I want/need to do. This is really important at work. It wouldn’t be a good thing if I forgot to do something that’s required while I’m at work!
Of course, it’s important to manage the lists. One difficult aspect of that is dividing the tasks. There are always the things that are urgent, then the things that are important but not as time sensitive. The key is to separate those things from the rest. The rest consists of things you’d like to do, but don’t necessarily have to do. One of those things for me is to scan all of my old photos. It’s not vital to my survival, and won’t advance my career, but it’s something I really want to do. So, I keep it on that ‘extra’ list, and try to scan a few photos once in a while, when I have some extra time or just need a break from regular chores.
For me, there’s another good use for a “to-do” list. I keep a list of topics (yes, this was one of them) to write about. One of the hardest parts of writing is coming up with ideas. Ideas seem to come to me at all of the wrong times – when I’m trying to sleep, when I’m showering, when I’m driving, when I’m at work – any time, it seems, that I’m not able to sit and write. So, I keep a small notepad and pen with me, and scribble down these ideas. I later transfer them to a document on my computer. Times like now, when I actually have the time and opportunity to write, I can look over the list if I have trouble thinking of a topic. Invariably, something on the list will spark my creative thought process, and I’ll write away. Take tonight, for example. I wanted to write, but wasn’t sure what to write about. I looked at my list, and once I saw “writing lists”, I decided that’s what I would write about. I thought it over for a little bit, and let my mind wander all around the topic. Then it clicked, and I started to write. See – lists can be helpful, if used in the right way!