A cherished part of my childhood was spending part of each summer vacation with my Auntie. Not only did I get to play with her kids, she lived a totally different life from my parents. I’ll never forget the day when I saw her sit down with a piece of paper and start writing.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“I’m writing down the stuff I need to do today,” Auntie replied.
“Well, it helps me figure out what I need to accomplish. At the end of the day, it shows me what all I managed to get done, so I can go to bed feeling satisfied.”
Younger Me didn’t understand that. What was the point in writing down silly things like “make the beds?” It seemed like a waste of time. Instead of writing a stupid list, why not just do the stuff and get it over with?
Many years later she showed me. When my father died Mom and I were lost. I followed Uncle’s instructions to drive over to their house instead of heading home. That night was spent grieving, but the next day? The next day we had stuff to do.
Auntie sat down and helped us create a list.
- Get Annie’s glasses fixed (Mom had slapped them off of me in her grief and broken them).
- Take Dad’s suit to the funeral home.
- Switch the bank account into Mom’s name only.
- Select our outfits for the funeral.
- Call A, B, and C to inform them of Dad’s death.
It wasn’t a very long list but it included simple things like “grab a bite to eat” and “go to bed early and rest.” Because my Auntie had created it, I helped my Mom follow it to the letter.
I realized at the end of the day that it had felt good to mark the things off that little piece of paper as we accomplished them. When I went to bed that night, it was with the realization that we had accomplished everything that needed to be done that day.
Almost thirty years later I still make lists.
Pythagoras taught that everything in nature could be divided into three parts. He believed that no one could become truly wise if they didn’t understand that every problem they face was diagrammatically triangular. He was famous for saying, “Establish the triangle and the problem is two-thirds solved.”
My lists contain a bit more than three things but his reasoning (as demonstrated by my Auntie) holds true. Simply organizing your thoughts by making a physical list eliminates the heavy lifting in your day to day life. Instead of stopping to think of what you’ve already accomplished as you work out what else you need to do, it’s already there in front of you. Just pick something else from your list and get to work. At the end of the day you have physical proof that you accomplished something.
Lists don’t have to be fancy to be effective. You can jot them down on the back of an envelope, make a list in your daily journal, or use an app designed for that purpose.
I’ve personally learned that simpler is better. I keep a cheap notebook on my kitchen table for mine. When I sit down for my first cup of coffee, I turn to a fresh page and start writing. If I accomplish something that I didn’t think to put on the list, I write it down and mark it off. If I think of something that I need to accomplish at some point in the future, I jot it down on the side as a reminder.
When I complete something I like to take a moment, sit down, and relish the fact that I got one more thing accomplished that day. It sounds silly but that little moment of reflection means a lot. It reminds me that, instead of wasting my time, that I’ve actually managed to accomplish something. It makes a bad day better when you can go to bed knowing that you accomplished something. Here is a video that explains it better than I can.