Sunday, 19 June 2016

Random thoughts on List-making

Why do people become list-makers? I'm not talking here about your dilettante 'what do I need to buy in Tesco's' list-maker. I'm referring to your advanced list-maker with a minimum a 5 lists on the go at any one time, each located in a different area or on a different piece of paper, written in different coloured ink, relating to different areas of life and requirement.

I imagine having an adult list-maker in your family is a starting point. I can clearly remember my single-parent mum starting each day that she wasn't returning home from the night-shift sat up in bed with a cup of tea, a piece of paper and a pen, scribbling down all the things she needed to remember to do that day. Looking back, it was probably the calmest point of her day when she felt most in control. She used that quiet oasis to focus her thoughts before the rigors of a day replete with three daughters, shift work, cooking, cleaning, organising and keeping the household together kicked in.


A desire for control in an otherwise often chaotic and/or busy life - that's another motivation for the fledgling list-maker. You may feel like you have no power over your life but a list means you are able to focus yourself on your immediate environment and feel that at least you are able to influence the little things like how tidy your house is/ whether you have food in the cupboards.

A love of stationery, of notepads and pens and post-it notes, would be another step in the path to becoming a List-Maker. You have to put something in those lovely notebooks and you want the excuse to use your favourite pens. Once people realise you love stationery, post-it notes become a regular gift for birthdays and Christmas so you need to use those bad boys up too!

Mmm. Paperchase.

The need for a sense of achievement - I think that's a big one. How many of you have added an item to a list just so you can cross it off because you don't want to be cheated of that sense of Getting Something Done.There's a feeling of progression - that feeling might be false if you give it a really close look but it's still there. I don't recall making lists while I was at school and I think that was partly because the regimentation of the education system negated the need for me to come up with a separate list and also because I had that sense of progression with academia. While I was at school I did not have the responsibility of a house and bills so there were less calls on my time, less need for me to have a clear idea of all those things that needed doing.

A desire not to forget things. I know that I have a limited space of time between an idea popping in to my head and it evaporating to either act on it or note it down. My brain has done its part. It has pointed out the existence of a task. What I do with it is up to me and my brain will not be held accountable if I let it slip by unmarked. It's like having an alarm set on your phone which you then dismiss, do nothing with, and get angry with your phone when you're late even though it did everything it could. I will often think of things months in advance, and writing them down becomes a necessity because there's no way I can get it done when the thought first arises.


List-makers don't make just one big list either. They can have dozens of lists on the go at any one time. Lists for what they need to get from the shops, what they need to do in terms of study or work, books they want to read, films they want to see, people they haven't seen in a while that they need to get in contact with, and so on and so forth. Those parents I know with the keenest organisational edge have the kind of calendars with columns for every member of the household, including the pets, and have to juggle a vast array of events, activities and tasks both in and out of the house.

My own dream when it comes to list-making is that I could go round the house from top to bottom and make a list of EVERYTHING I need to do. Not just housework-wise but life-wise. Incorporate the wheel of life template into this epic List and at the end of a day or a week have the defining set of to-dos after which, when I cross each and every one off, there will be no more to-dos left for me to do ever. The Impossible List. Unachievable but tantalising.

Example Wheel Of Life, taken from Act Now website

I sometimes wish I could give up list-making and for a while I fly crazy and free without lists and it feels so good. Until I realise I have forgotten something major and then back to my lists I go, contrite, eager to justify purchasing that new notepad that is only £2.50 now in the sale . . .

Other interweb pages of interest if you enjoyed or identified with this post.

  • BBC Article on the art of list-making
  • The Telegraph on addictions to to-do lists.
  • Are you an obsessive list-maker? How many of these are you guilty of?

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