10 Rules For Making Lists


I have never been a big fan of lists. My husband loves to make lists. Whether we are packing for a trip or just spending a day cleaning, he suggests that our first step should be to make a list. Lists have always made me feel trapped, bogged down, and overwhelmed. My lists are always long and impossible to complete, so I wondered why I would even want to bother making one.

Lately, though, I’ve been giving list-making a try. My lists have been giving me direction. I have discovered the satisfaction that comes from crossing an item off of a list. Maybe I’ve learned not to make my lists impossibly long. Maybe I’m not letting myself get paralyzed when I feel overwhelmed. Regardless of the reason, I’m finding lists to be freeing instead of confining.

For the 12 weeks, I’ve been making myself a “to do” list each week. Every Thursday evening or Friday morning, I make a list of things I want to accomplish over the course of the weekend. I’ve learned a couple of things about making a list and wanted to share them. Here are my rules for making myself a successful list:

1. Limit my list to 10 items. That way, I have some hope that I could actually accomplish everything on my list (although that has not happened yet!). It also forces me to think about the things I really want or need to get done. I try to leave routine tasks off the list, but I did put Laundry on the list one weekend when I was drowning in dirty clothes.

2. Make the items on my list small and manageable. On the list from my first week, “Clean the House” was one item. I quickly learned to break my list down into easier tasks. Sometimes, one item will be to clean a room. Other times, an item might be to clean one shelf in a cupboard. The important thing is to be able to cross an item off. It doesn’t matter how big the item is.

3. When I finish a task, it gets crossed off and moved to the bottom of the list. I like to see this running tally of the things I have accomplished. Crossing an item off the list feels good, and seeing a whole list of crossed off items feels even better.

4. The items that I do not finish are left on the list, moving up so that I can add new items at the bottom. This helps me prioritize the following weekend, and get rid of those tasks that have been on the list for a while. It allows me to celebrate a week when I get to add a lot of items to the list. It gives me hope when I don’t accomplish much over a weekend, because I know I’ll have another chance. I also appreciate not having to come up with 10 new items every weekend.

5. If we have a busy weekend full of activities, I set low expectations for accomplishing items on my list. It’s okay if nothing on my list gets done one weekend (this has happened), because the list wait until I have time to work on it.

6. Put a variety of tasks on the list. For me, a good list has some jobs that take a few minutes and some tasks that take longer. It has some items that are more physical (like scrubbing a floor) and some that are more mental (like sorting through accumulated mail). This gives me a choice when I am choosing the next task to work on.

7. My list is my list. Other members of my family probably have different priorities. This has taught me to put things into perspective and not become a slave to my list.

8. Ask for help when I need it. Even though it is my list and I take responsibility for doing the tasks I include, I can’t always do everything myself.

9. Put some fun stuff on the list. Including an item that involves making a craft or baking something special or planting flowers keeps me from dreading looking at my list.

10. Celebrate the things I have accomplished. Taking a minute to see how great the completed task looks, getting a drink of water, reading a magazine, or taking a walk are some of the rewards I give myself when I cross a task off my list.

My attitude toward lists has really changed. I think this is because I have changed my approach when I am making my lists and follow my ten guidelines above. It’s important for me to remember that my list is meant to be a tool. It’s meant to help. If it is not helpful, then I need to change it and make it work for me. So far, my lists have been helpful. When I find myself overwhelmed by all that needs to be done, I just take out my list and choose a place to start.


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