How to Make Lists Work for You

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The most productive people I know use lists to stay organized.  Most people appreciate the value of a good list- for groceries or for Christmas shopping.  

What the uber-productive people know is that the same magic that makes a grocery store list so good can be scaled to other areas of life.  

The result: super productivity and greater peace of mind.

Think of the grocery store list and why it works so well:

  • It matches need to resource.
  • It gives you items to cross off. This feels so good!
  • It takes a store with tens of thousands of items to offer and simplifies it to your needs and wants.

Where a grocery store list can be brought to the next level is when you keep a list going throughout a week.  The milk runs low on Tuesday and "milk" goes on your list. Tortillas show up on Friday and also go on your list.  By the time Sunday rolls around and you're ready for the store, you already have your list.  This is how you can make your lists work for you instead of the dread of having to add things at the last minute.

I use this at work for upcoming cities and travel.  For example, it's unlikely that I'll remember all of the people I want to visit the next time I'm in Boston.  But, I can remember a little at a time and add to my list in the months leading up to my next trip to Beantown.

I currently have lists for:

  • next time in Cincinnati
  • next time in Boston
  • next time in LA
  • next time in Florida

I find these sort of "add as you go" lists work really well around the house.  At a random moment, you might have an idea of something you need for your porch to get finished.  As you already have an "Around the House" list (or better yet, a Finish the Porch project), you can simply add when the muse hits you.  Then, on a Saturday when you have time, you just open your list and get to work.

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This process also works well for gift giving.  My wife is notoriously difficult to shop for so I keep a list just for her birthday and Christmas.  When she drops a hint of something that she might like, I add it to my list like a super-sleuth.  Boy does it make things easier when I then go to purchase a gift!

As a follow up, I suggest looking at your current lists.  This presumes that you're using a digital task manager (like Nozbe which is my favorite or Omnifocus or even a paper planner) to stay on top of your lists.  After a quick scan, identify which of your lists you can "populate" as you go through your week.  You may be surprised by how many of them are ready for you to add items as you go.

Then, and this is the key, have the courage to add to your lists on the fly.  

You'll be tempted to just have a thought and then let it go.  Instead, pause and add to your lists.  Don't let the hectic pace of life sabotage your lists.  You'll feel good about it and your productivity will go to the next level.