Not an “A Lister.” Just a “lister.”
It is a habit I learned from my dad. He kept lists of chores that needed to be done around the farm. They would end up on the fridge or tacked to a small bulletin board at the kitchen door. You couldn’t leave the house without seeing what dad had To Do.
The actual list was written in pencil on a roll of cash register paper. It was so important, he made a fancy holder for the paper, cradled on a dowel between two black horse heads he had cut out with a scroll saw. That was mounted near our wall phone for us kids to write messages on–another habit he instilled.
My own listing started in high school, when I faced piles of homework from a class schedule with no study halls. My favorite tool was the simple desk calendar, where I could ink in the various deadlines. It became simply a matter of looking at the pad each morning to determine what needed to be completed that day.
As parents, we mounted a discarded chalkboard inside our own front door. There, I chalked in the list of things to do. Whenever a child needed something done or bought or signed, I simply said, “Put it on the list.”
It became a mantra, sung to the tune of Puttin’ on The Ritz.
Car inspection? Put it on the list.
Permission to go on field trip? Put it on the list.
Cookies for the dance studio bake sale? Put it on the list.
Time to worm the dog? Put it on the list.
I’ve learned the joy of listmaking is not in the making of the list, but in the scratching off the list. I saw a note from a social media poster, who shares this penchant for listing. He stated it clearly: “I make lists prioritized by whatever makes me most anxious at the top and descend from there. And I always use pen and paper. It’s intimate and emotional to bleed ink over each item one at a time as you cross them off.”
To “bleed ink over” is an apt metaphor. Whether “grinding chalk over” or “ripping out of the DayMinder,” there is a gristly satisfaction in slaying item after item that dares appear on “the list.”
I also like the idea of putting the item that makes me “most anxious” at the top. That aligns with my “do the worst first” mnemonic when planning each day. Just get it over with.
I also play with changing my attitude toward onerous tasks. Instead of thinking I have to go the dentist, I say, “I get to go to the dentist!” It’s a silly trick, but it is so much more fun to barge into the waiting room with a smile as if you won a trip to Disneyland. It also startles the hygienist.
As another mentor told me when I was starting out in business: “Phil, it’s not what work you bring in each day, it’s what work you put out.” That changes the perspective from potential to results.
One of those self-help gurus said he could change your life with a single piece of advice. That advice? Every day, make a list of six things you will do that day. Only six. Not five. Not seven. Make a list of six things, then do them, and cross them off your list.
I’ve been doing this for years. I have a Stickie Note app on my computer, with the heading TOP SIX. Every day I write it out, then work to check them off. I don’t always succeed, but the practice keeps me incredibly focused.
You should try it.
Put it on the list.