Savvy List-Making


New year, new lists. When I was first retired and had lots of time at my disposal, my to-do lists were beautiful and organized. I utilized my notepad-style page-a-day calendar to its fullest extent, and never wondered where my to-do list was. I kept two, in fact: one master list and one daily list, a combination of my schedule for the day and items pulled from the master list and assigned to available times in the day.

When things get hectic and crazy, however, I revert to dash-and-run listing: no piece of paper or writing utensil is safe. I have lists on the counter, lists on my desk, lists in the car and one big list clipped to the front of my grade book. School lists form on a sheet of paper attached to the front of my grade book, and miscellaneous lists made up of things I remember on the run take shape on notepads in my car, scrap paper, and the backs of receipts. Somehow, when I need lists the most, I fall into the most inefficient pattern of list-making possible.

Why on earth would any sane person do this?

  • Lack of time:  As time to do things shrinks, my fear of forgetting things grows. In my rush to get from Point A to Point B, I grab anything handy to write down the things that pop into my mind before they get away from me.
  • Fear of the big list: I once watched a colleague create a list that spanned several pages of a legal pad. I felt panic-stricken for her and vowed never to create a list that long. Multiple small lists may be inefficient, but they’re less terrifying.
  • Where is the big list anyway? Again, the dash from Point A to Point B and points beyond plays a role. If my master list for the day is at home on my desk, it’s inaccessible when I’m not home. Writing things down somewhere quickly trumps writing things down in an assigned space. Not writing them down isn’t even an option.

Writing things down is good. Scattering lists like bread crumbs is not.

I know what works for me (that’s why I buy that notepad-style page-a-day calendar every year), but time management is no different from stuff management. When we’re overwhelmed, we sometimes forget to stick to the plan. When we’re really overwhelmed, we sometimes forget there is a plan.

The solution? Keep it simple. The fewer the lists, the better, but if, like me, you’re overwhelmed by one big, long, master list, organize your lists by topic (to do, to buy, to call), by location (home, work, car/errands) or by day of the week. By all means, keep notepads in a variety of places to catch those stray thoughts, but tape, staple, clip or otherwise attach the wayward notes to the main list so you’re not wasting time and energy looking for the right list.

Next week, I’ll talk about some list-making tools I like. Until then, if you have one you especially like, please share it in the comments below.

Meanwhile, I hope you have many opportunities to enjoy my favorite part of list-making….

Checking things off.

Copyright 2016 Lisa Hess


About Author

Lisa Lawmaster Hess has contributed articles to local, national and online publications, and blogs at The Porch Swing Chronicles, The Susquehanna Writers and here at She is the author of two non-fiction books (Acting Assertively and Diverse Divorce) and two novels, Casting the First Stone and Chasing a Second Chance. A retired elementary school counselor, Lisa is a lecturer in psychology at York College and enjoys singing with the contemporary choir at her church.

1 Comment

  1. Michael Carrillo on

    I’ve learned to use my phone’s Notepad and/or Calendar. Since I always have my phone I know where my lists are.

    The downsides are: 1) I’ve become dependent upon my phone, 2) the notepad/Calendar apps can track everything you enter into them, 3) and insultingly, they try to suggest what information you should enter.

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