May 29, 2007

This I believe: The power of making lists

I believe in making lists. All kinds of lists. I make daily, weekly and monthly to-do lists. Grocery-shopping lists. Before-I-die lists. Gift-idea lists. Story-idea lists. Lists of questions to ask people, of recommended books to read, of homework assignments, of new vocabulary. And of course, lists of New Year’s resolutions.

I can’t think of a more appropriate way of explaining my belief in the power of making lists than by making a list of my top reasons. So here they are.

1. If you write something down, it gets done. There’s even science to prove that if you say you’re going to do something and then you write it down, the chances of it actually happening increase exponentially. So making those life-goal lists is especially important. Here’s my anecdotal proof: Since I made my first of this kind of list, I’ve been able to put a checkmark next to the following things: Learn another language fluently, downhill ski in the Colorado Rockies, live abroad, skydive and sing on stage.

2. Making lists almost always saves time. Sometimes I “forget” that my life runs on lists. Once in a while I’ll say to myself, “Okay, you can forgo making a shopping list this one time. It’ll be fine.” But whenever I do, I end up coming home with another bag of basmati rice when I already have three bags in the cupboard. And I’ll have forgotten that the toothpaste tube has reached the critical level, which means another trip to the store, during which I cuss myself out for ever denying that I must make lists.

3. Lists allow you to accomplish more. This may be an obvious one, but I learned it the hard way after wasting too much time at work. Now I keep a running task list on my computer, so that I always have a bunch of possible jobs to attack. If I don’t feel like doing a certain job, I have ten others to choose from. And when I have a spare 30 minutes before an appointment, I can scan my to-do list for a job that will take me 30 minutes or less.

4. When you accomplish something on your list, you get to do something even more fun than making lists: You get to cross an item off the list. Crossing off items can be so satisfying that I admit I sometimes even make lists of menial tasks I’ve already completed, just so that I can cross them off.

So that’s why I believe in making lists. I suppose my list-making obsession isn’t for everyone. That’s okay because I also believe in knowing thyself.

I know I need lists. I know they motivate me to start a project and complete a project. And I know that by putting pen to paper to make my lists, I’m capturing my thoughts and dreams before they flitter away. My lists become plot lines on a grid, setting my course and showing me all at once the person I was and the person I hope to become. With my trusty list in hand, I’ll know where I’m going and where I’ve already been.

Gabcast! I believe in making lists #1

To learn more about NPR’s This I Believe project go to: This I believe


Mark Brown said...

I want to be an adherent of the list, and I just started a new list. Making lists is the first task listed on my new list.

Do you ever find lost lists from days past? Mine swim to the surface from time to time, and the one or two objectives completed, among the many listed, tend to dishearten me.

You have inspired me to adhere to the list with newfound rigor. New list task #2; make lists for one month…without losing them.

Katie Campbell said...

Mark, That's fantastic! I don't know that I can claim that I've ever made a list that started: #1 Make list.

Unless maybe you count the many and ever-changing lists I keep in my head. They usually go something like... make a list stuff to do today, check email, shower, do something off the list, make lunch, see if I can cross anything off the list, ... etc.

And I have had that happen where I find old lists and often what happens is that I've gotten so busy doing the stuff on the list that I haven't gotten a chance to cross things out yet. So I happily cross them out months or even years after they've been completed.... there must be something wrong with me.

And yes, there are always a few items I can't cross off the list and that either makes me sad or I think well, I guess it wasn't that important after all.

Mark Noack said...

Katie, you made a lot of poignant insights in your posting about lists. And how very apt to write about lists in list format!

I read your other posting about the 400 word writing exercise drawing from newspapers and diaries. I wonder what kinds of information about a source can be drawn from their daily lists. Could lists be a window to a person's thoughts?

BTW, I remember hearing that the oldest writing that still exists (Sumerian clay tablets, i think)--are lists!

Katie Campbell said...

Thanks for the comments Mark, I certainly think personal lists would give insight into character. They tell about a person's ambition and persistence. And if you were trying to create a day in someone's life when a catastrophe happen, say a car accident or a natural disaster, seeing the person's daily to-do list would allow you to be able to write:

On that fated day Mr. So and So was planning to mow the lawn, pick up a perscription and play golf ...

Those would be great character building details.

michalinhillsboro said...

And one of my favorite science fiction novels was based upon a partial list rediscovered: A Chanticle for Leibowitz.

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