The Perfect List

August 9, 2011 | By | Comments (18)

I’ve rarely met a person who doesn’t like making a list. Irrespective of if you actually refer to the list after creating it, the act of writing down items in list format is somehow cathartic. You get information out of your head and onto a sheet of paper (or your computer screen), which is as joyful as dancing under a sprinkler on a freshly mowed football field or the best nap of your life.

I expect you’re familiar with the list. Items are either recorded in some kind of prioritized manner or are just put on the paper as you remembered them. You can use numbers, but you certainly don’t have to. This is the type of list your grandmother and her grandmother made. You likely don’t even remember learning about lists, they have simply always been a part of your life, like breathing.

What defines a perfect list is quite subjective. I found a list in a parking lot once that was titled, “Possible nicknames for Grandma.” There were only three choices on the list: “Granny, Grammy, and Milk of Magnesia.” Although small, it is the most perfect list I have ever encountered. It has been 20 years since I saw that list, and I still remember it in its entirety. I’m also fairly certain I’ve never created a list as grand.

Using a list as a time management tool can be an effective way to improve your productivity. I’m a fan of Mark Forster’s AutoFocus System (scroll down to “What can you expect from this system?”) for reviewing my lists and using them to my advantage. I also like to follow the advice in David Allen’s Getting Things Done system and create action items with very specific language “call pediatrician at 4:00 on Tuesday at (555) 111-1111 to make appointment for morning of 20th or 21st” instead of vague goals “take son to doctor.” I also like to review my lists, even after items are crossed off of it, just to see how much I have accomplished. Heck, I’ll even start my list by putting items on it that I have already completed just so I can have the pleasure of crossing the item off the list. (I also know I’m not the only person in the world who does this.)

What is your version of a perfect list? How do you use lists? If you’re looking for a little stress relief, try creating a list to get the ideas out of your head and onto a piece of paper. Even if your list is long, you’ll feel more relaxed knowing you don’t have to remember all that information any longer.