Sunday, 8 October 2017

6 Things I've Learned About Making Lists

Photo by Jan Kahanek from

I come to work, make my coffee, surf on the Internet a little bit, look through documents on my desk, I choose the most urgent work to do and I start doing it. Sounds like a normal work day and it could actually work, but then the desk phone rings, my boss comes to me and waits when I finish the call to tell me something, I can see another person approaching my desk, everyone’s work is always so important, it can’t wait even five minutes. At the same time my cell phone rings, I can see some emails coming in. After I handle all of those things, there is a very, very important meeting that no one knew about before and when it’s all over I sit back to my desk and I completely don’t remember what I was doing.

Well, I think it’s time for coffee again...and it starts all over again. Lately most of my work days look like that. I knew that I can’t go on like that for a long time so that’s when making lists came in handy (and a little bit of assertiveness, but that’s another story). It helps me to keep track of what I need to do, it makes me calm, because I know I’m not forgetting anything, even if I get distracted I can easily go back to the list and see what’s my priority at the time.

Here are 5 things that I’ve learned since I’ve started making and using lists:

1. Find your best way to make lists.

There’s no one, ultimate best way to do lists. For each person something else will work. After trying many methods, I came very naturally to the best solution for me. I’ve got A5 notebook with a hard cover, it’s one of the most important items on my desk. I start each day with it, and I start with planning. I’ve got one main to-do list, where I just list all the things I need to do, one after another, the most important ones and those not so important. I cross out what is done, and add new things.

On other page of the notebook or sometimes on a separate piece of paper I write a daily to-do list. I write a date and the day of the week and 3-5 most important things to do that day. This way I don’t have to go through my long general to-do list each time.

For other ways to make lists that may work for you as well I’ll post another post soon.

2. Take small steps.

Some of the tasks may be big, difficult and challenging. When I have that kind of things on my list I tend to put them off until there’s absolutely no time at all, and I’m stressed about them even more. Sometimes I just don’t know where to start with it.

I’ve learned that if I divide such tasks into small easy steps it becomes very easy to just move forward. So instead of writing on your list - “Find a job”, write “find a good resume template, write resume, reply for 5 job offers, visit 1 company” etc.  Instead of “organize clothes” write “organize underwear drawer, long sleeve shirts, trousers” and so on.

3. Use a list as a guideline.

It’s not all or nothing, don’t feel bad if you don’t cross out all of your tasks from the list. Life is too unpredictable to have absolutely everything under control. We get distracted by other people, we get flus, flat tires, is sometimes just overwhelming. Or sometimes we spend much more time on one thing than we thought we would.

Other important thing - it’s ok to change your plan. If you see that you’ve planned too many tasks for one day move them to the next day. If you wanted to do something in the moment of planning, but later you’re not so interested in it - cross it out. If you’ve put in your meal plan some broccoli for Thursday, and on Thursday you really, really don’t feel like eating it, then don’t.

Focus on things that you’ve actually accomplished, and make sure you give yourself credit for that. 

4. Use colors.

It’s a simple thing, but actually works. When I write and cross out everything with one color on my lists I get confused very quickly. When I got used to writing with blue pen and crossing out done tasks with a red one the lists are more readable.

Your lists, planners and notes should look appealing to you. It doesn’t mean all letters must be straight and every line must be measured with a ruler, but if you use different colors it’s doesn’t look boring.

5. Give yourself a prize.

It’s very important to acknowledge the work that you’ve already done, because we tend to just check off things on our lists and just go on and on, to the next task, to the next day, to the next project.  Probably there will be never a moment when you’ll have everything done, or at least those won’t be very long.

It’s easier to go on like that if we do things that are important and beneficial for us or their results are immediate. But if the outcome is not so clear it’s difficult to stay motivated. So give yourself that instant result, plan that after 5 small tasks you can watch an episode of your favorite show, or that after that big project you’ll go to some interesting place, it’s up to you, just make sure you’ll be really excited about the prize.

6. It's not about your personality.

If you’re not organized it doesn’t mean you can’t get organized. I can tell you that from my own experience - I was always messy, behind the schedule and forgetting everything. Now I can say I've got that under control (most of the time). Sure, it’s easier for people who are naturally gifted and always have been planning and sorting things out. Don’t say that you can’t do that because it’s just not your thing or you weren’t taught early how to be organized - these are only excuses. It may require a little more work and effort but it’s worth it - finally it’s YOU who is in charge of your life not a set of random events and other people’s requests. 

Tweet: It’s YOU who is in charge of your life not a set of random events and other people’s requests. @ChallengeBookW


  1. Great post.

    I always make a list of things I need to do for the year, month, week, day, ...It's a good way to track what needs to be done and your accomplishments.

    I enjoyed your blog btw, keep up the good work!

    99to1percent recently posted...How we increased our annual income from $0 to $160K+ to $400,000+

    1. Exactly, it's easier to focus, especially if there are so many goals to achieve.

      Thank you for your comment :)