People have made lists as long as they’ve been able to write things down. Take this monk, for example. He could be contemplating the relative size of angels in order to solve an age-old question: How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Or, he could be trying to remember what he needs to do, so he can write it down. That’s the mystery of making lists. No one knows what, exactly, you’re trying to remember.
Some lists relate directly to productivity. Richard Branson once confessed, “I have always lived my life by making lists. These vary from lists of people to call, lists of ideas, lists of companies to set up, lists of people who can make things happen. I also have lists of topics to blog about, lists of tweets to send, and lists of upcoming plans.”
Branson offers several pieces of advice for making your own lists from practical (Always carry a notebook.) to fanciful (What do you want to have achieved by 2020? How about 2050?) Um, not sure I’ll still be on the planet in 2050. Anyway.
Branson, by the way, not only pilots a high altitude hot air balloon, but expects to board the first Virgin Galactic space flight later this year. Where does that go on his list?
My lists are mundane and based on the motto: “If you didn’t see me write it down, your request has disappeared.” I keep a calendar – because otherwise I have no idea what’s going on – actually, I keep two calendars. One for planning major projects, one for keeping appointments. And, if there’s going to be more than one event for the day, I scribble everything down in pencil on a piece of scrap paper, usually crumpled.
You may be wondering if there’s even the slightest relationship between the kind of lists Richard Branson makes and my hapless jottings. Actually, yes.
Lists, according to an NPR story by Linton Weeks,
• Keep us from being overwhelmed.
• Help us remember things
• Relieve stress and focus the mind
• Keep us from procrastinating as long as we remember we actually have to do the items on the list.
Lists can be made anywhere on anything – pencil and paper, computer, smart phone apps, or (my personal favorite) Post-It Notes. Arthur Fry revolutionized lists when he invented those yellow squares with the sticky strip across the back. Now available in all shapes and sizes, lined or unlined, and in a rainbow of colors, Post-It Notes stick on anything. Plus you can rearrange your color-coded collage of tasks any time you like. In fact, rearranging Post-Its can give procrastination the illusion of productivity.
“What did you accomplish this morning?”
“I reprioritized the company’s biggest revenue project”
“Good Job – I wish everyone was so productive.”
And the second best thing about keeping a To-Do List is that you get to cross things off. Richard Branson recommends: “Mark off every completed task. You’ll find making each tick very satisfying.”
Better yet, crumple up the bits of paper, and toss them in the bin.
Featured Image: Portrait of a Writing Monk, Anton Laupheimer, US Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons.
Richard Branson, “Top 10 Tips for Making Lists,” 2013,
Nicole Yorio Jurick, “How to Make the Most of Your To-Do List,” Real Simple,
Peter Walker and Jon Ronson, “Richard Branson Insists He Will Board First Virgin Galactic Space Flight,” The Guardian, Feb. 21, 1014.
Linton Weeks, “10 Reasons Why We Love Making Lists,” NPR, Feb. 24, 2009.
Sandra Wagner-Wright is the author of Two Coins: A Biographical Novel and Rama's Labyrinth. Both books are available in digital and print editions at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and Kobo. Rama’s Labyrinth and Two Coins are available as audiobooks.
Sandra blogs weekly about topics related to her travels, writing life, and the incongruities of life in general.