I've been thinking about it, and I have come to the conclusion that we could solve most of the world's problems by simply making more lists. I came to this partially on my own, and partially based on an article in last week's New York Times Book Review, about a book by a Harvard Med professor and surgeon, who claims that doctors frequently overlook important steps in surgery and that implementing simple checklists can virtually eliminate dangerous infections.* Personally, I am a huge maker of lists, and I wouldn't be nearly the woman I am today without them. I don't just keep lists. I keep lists of lists. Contrary to what you are thinking, though, I don't maniacally keep lists because I am some precise militaristic anal-retentive, but for quite the opposite reason: I am a scatterbrain with a memory like a sieve. Without lists, I would stand around staring blankly at the walls for 10 hours a day (as it is, I'm down to about 2 hours a day). I have a small notebook I keep in my purse which houses the master copies of these lists, but I'd be lying if I said most of them don't get made on the backs of receipts or junk-mail envelopes, and then get shoved into the book. Sure, I make the standard issue to-do and shopping lists that everyone makes, but I take my list-making even further. Here is a list of some of the lists (so meta of me) I keep, and you should, too, in order to be at your most productive.
1. Household Projects: I have a master list of all the projects I want to accomplish in our apartment, from little ("Wash slipcovers") to big ("Remodel downstairs bathroom"). It feels good to have all my ideas in one place, so I can tackle them one at a time. Watch out, though, the big projects tend to spawn their own lists once you start them.
2. Grocery/Pharmacy/Hardware: I keep three separate running lists for my most frequented shopping destinations: the supermarket, the drugstore, and the hardware store. Listing keeps me from forgetting things I need, and from impulse-buying things I don't.
3. Friends: This may sound cold, but work, marriage, and general preoccupation have caused me to grow a little distant from some of my friends. And going through my "friends" on Facebook just makes me feel even more overwhelmed and stressed. Recently, I started keeping a list of the true friends I really want in my life and I am making an effort to reach out and reconnect with them, one by one.
4. Restaurants/ Date Ideas: Walking around New York, I am constantly seeing restaurants and bars I would love to try out. But, whenever someone suggests we meet for dinner or a drink, my mind goes absolutely blank. Someone recently suggested jotting down these spots, and keeping a list. I imagine if you are still on the market, this would work well for date spots and activities, too.
5. Shopping Websites: I get so many catalogs in the mail that I feel personally responsible for the depletion of the rainforests. Instead of hanging onto the good ones, though, I write down their websites and immediately put them in the recycling bin. That way, I don't buy clothes and housewares I don't need, but when I do actually need something, I remember where to look.
6. Meals: As part of my resolution to cook less chicken last year, I started keeping a list of other meals I like to cook or recipes I wanted to try. It really helps when 5:30 pm rolls around and I have no idea what to make for dinner.
7. Packing: I keep a master packing list on my computer for all our travels (click here to copy it for yourself). Never again will I forget something essential. I find it's better to pack first, and then go over the list to make sure you didn't forget anything. When I pack from the list, it takes me twice as long, and I end up bringing twice as much stuff.
8. Daily To-Dos: I make a list each morning for what I hope to accomplish each day. It is a proven fact that I get way more done in a day where I write things down than on those that I don't. I even put things on there like "Lunch" and "Make the Bed" that I would do anyway, simply because it feels good to scratch something off the list. Here is a list of the little household tasks I do every day, as a starting place for your daily list.
9. Take With You: Back when I was working in an office and had to leave the house before my brain fully kicked in to gear in the morning, I kept a post-it note by the door that said, "Keys, Cell Phone, Wallet, Lunch, Metrocard, Building Pass". Without this daily reminder, I would forget 2-4 of those items every day.
10. For Others: I don't just selfishly keep lists for myself- I share the love. While my husband is at work, I think of a million things I want to talk to him about or ask him to do, only to go completely blank when he gets home. I've started keeping a little list where I jot down these thoughts as they come up during the day.
11. Monthly Bills: I keep a list on our computer of all of the bills we pay each month: Mortgage, cell phones, cable, electric, credit cards. Having them all written out keeps me from letting any of them slip through the cracks.
* For those interested, the book is The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, by Atul Gawande.
photo credit: Real Simple
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