My husband is planning a fishing trip, his favorite thing to do both in planning and then actually doing.  I have been commandeered to accompany him after his best fishing buddy had to withdraw for medical reasons, and I have to admit that I am impressed with his preparations.  He has lists for everything that he prints up weeks in advance and pores over frequently.  There is a list of things to gather, a list of meal ideas, a list of food to buy and take, and lists for tasks to be completed before he leaves.  He loves to revise, add to, and delete – let alone cross things off the list.  I am delighted to sit back and watch him methodically get ready to go fishing! List-making is a skill and a practice that is worthy of our attention.  Creating a to-do list has many advantages, and picking up a few tips can make the effort most productive.

There are plenty of reasons why making lists makes sense.  It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you know that there is much to be done.  Breaking that anxiety down into manageable tasks puts things into perspective.  If you’re missing deadlines and feel like you’re always playing catch-up, creating a prioritized list helps to keep you on task and to remind you of what needs to be done and when.  Also, if you find you are completely forgetting things that need to be done, the habit of referring to your to-do list can prevent those memory lapses.  It may seem that creating lists takes valuable time out of your day, but Carrie Barron, M.D., writes that “A list can take you back to feeling pro-active, grounded, calm, and clear.”

There has been much written about list making, and there are many apps that can assist you in making the task more productive and enjoyable.  Here are a few tips to get you started:

  1. Some sources say that you should start your day creating a list and going over what needs to be done during the day. Others say that you should do this at the end of the day for the following day.  Either way, taking 5-10 minutes to brainstorm for what needs to be done can make your day more productive.
  2. If there are tasks that seem too daunting, try breaking them down into smaller steps that appear more manageable. For example, if you are planning to write a blog, you might have these items on your list:  choose a topic, research, read, and write.
  3. Prioritize your tasks by organizing your list in order of importance, or label your tasks with a number or letter to indicate how soon they should each receive your full attention.
  4. Some people like paper lists, and there are so many sources online that have free to-do list forms that you can print, such as To-Do Lists.  There are also apps that you can download that keep track of your projects and even post pop-ups on your screen as reminders.  These are easy to update and save you time.  Google Gmail, for example, has a “task” function in its program, or Microsoft’s To-Do List app for Windows might work for you.
  5. You may decide that you need a number of lists – e.g,. one for work, one for home.
  6. Most sources say that you should update your list daily, but you may have a list for longer term projects where you indicate a date when the task should be completed
  7. If your lists become unwieldy, you might decide to move to an Action Program to help you manage multiple projects.

Sir Richard Branson who has owned Virgin Airlines (but sold off Virgin America and Virgin Atlantic) says that he is a preeminent list maker.  He has “lists of people to call, lists of ideas, lists of companies to set up, lists of people who can make things happen . . . . topics to blog about, . . . tweets to send, . . . and upcoming plans,” If you’re not a list maker yet, try developing the skills and the habits of successful people who utilize lists to organize their time.


-Diane Repass│Diane is a retired tenured assistant professor from The University of Dubuque and now a beloved writer for Plaid Swan Inc. She received her M.A. from The University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa.