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10 Tips on Using Lists For Better Time Management

Lists can help time management and decrease stress

I have always been a list person.  I’m not sure how or why as I did not inherit this from either of my parents or siblings.  The only lists I saw growing up were the grocery lists kept on the fridge that we all added to.  Read on to find out how lists can help you.

I began making lists when I got my first job at aged 12.  My best friend and I were asked to look after the school garden over the summer break as well as clean the auditorium that was regularly used during the summer for productions.  This was in the USA and we were paid in cash.  I was very involved in sports and did summer studies as well so I found I needed to write things down to get myself organised. 

From that time I began writing in diaries and writing basically everything down, including making daily lists. It is amusing to think back that I used to have things on my list like ‘wake up’, ‘eat breakfast’ and ‘brush teeth’. These were pre computer days, so it was all pen and paper.  The skill to make lists and write key thoughts and ideas down ended up assisting to chose my career path.  At University I was accepted into the Business School at Santa Clara University, but really didn’t know what I wanted to do.  Marketing at that time was very much about creativity, planning and writing, all of which I had excelled at, so that was the path I followed.

Looking after clients and organising their marketing activities, and being able to continue to enhance my love of writing meant I was doing the things I loved and getting paid. Much of what I do requires excellent organisational skills so the list process enhanced my work and personal life.

As life gets busier, when you settle down and have a family and continue to work, lists become a ‘must do’, not a ‘should do’. Your head is filled with a hundreds of things that you need to do, immediately, tomorrow, next week, or next month.

Your attention has a limited capacity – you can only fit so much in your mind at any one time. Often having so many things spinning around in your head can cause anxiety. When you plan for how you’ll do things, you release the part of your attention that struggles to hold each item on your to-do list in your mind. The mere act of planning how to finish something and writing it down (or typing) satisfies the itch that keeps uncompleted tasks in our memory and can affect our sleep, happiness and general well being.  I find if I write (or type) an item on the to do list, the mere act of doing so means I will likely remember without having to refer to the list.  But I still feel better having it there.

So how do you go about getting started?  Here are some helpful tips on using lists to help smooth out your day.

  1. Always have a pen and paper handy.  I often think of things in the middle of the night and if I don’t grab the pen and paper next to my bed and write it down, I don’t sleep properly as I worry that I will forget by morning.
  2. Do lists daily, whether it’s on an electronic device or written in a diary.
  3. Don’t try to schedule too many things into one day. If you do this continuously and don’t accomplish enough of your list, you will not feel any satisfaction, and quite possibly cause more anxiety.
  4. Prioritise the items on your list.  I have two lists per day, personal and work.  They sit side-by-side. The ones that have to be done that particular day go to the top of this list.
  5. I have a week-at-a-glance lists, so that if something doesn’t get done say on Monday, I highlight it so it doesn’t get forgotten and I try to get to it on another day during the week.  If it doesn’t get done, I carry it forward to the next week and it doesn’t get crossed off the list until it is complete.
  6. Cross things off your list when completed – I get immense satisfaction being able to cross items off my lists.
  7. If you are relying on others to enable you to finish a task, ask their permission for you to send them reminders.  My clients are grateful for courteous and timely reminders that I email or text them.
  8. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get everything on your list completed. Things happen that we cannot predict, so try to be flexible and not so hard on yourself.
  9. Plan for fun.  My friends laugh at me when we try to organise girls’ weekends away as I always have to check my diary.
  10. Don’t be afraid to be spontaneous.  I was probably a bit too rigorous with my planning and lists whilst the kids were younger and have only recently learned to be more spontaneous and take advantage of opportunities to do things on spur of the moment.  Lately they have turned out to be just as, if not more enjoyable.


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