Making A List Increases Productivity

Lists are funny things. People often either love them or hate them – or perhaps feel both sentiments at the same time.

Growing up, I remember my Mother always had a list to check off. There were even lists about making lists. It wasn’t odd to see “Make Packing List for Family Vacation” or “Start List for Christmas Dinner” on her lists. I remember thinking that seemed absurd but now, I am a self-admitted listaholic. I have lists in my office and at home. Some are on paper, some are on my phone (I even have an app for lists), and some on my computer. I create checklists, to do lists and shopping lists. What works for me and my Mom though, may not work for you.

While almost all of us have some inkling that lists are an absolutely essential productivity tool and at the center of any organized approach to tasks (and life for that matter), we often have a curious resistance to them.

We know we should make them – but don’t.
We know we should follow them – but don’t.
We know we should complete them before flitting on to other things – but don’t.


When all else fails, we manage to lose them, go and make another, which we will then proceed to lose again or ignore. Meanwhile, all the urgent things we listed still sit there, waiting for our attention.

Perhaps in some small corner of the subconscious, a part of us feels a sense of victory in rebelling against routinized list-making and list-following, irrationally believing that ignoring all those to-dos will make them go away. I don’t have to tell you that they don’t. If anything, they just become more stubborn and ominous the more we ignore them.

So guess what your next personal productivity step is? Make the list. Make it now. And follow the thing.

By the time you’ve listed the five, ten, twenty, or hundreds of need to dos – preferably in order of time sensitivity and importance – you may feel a sense of exhaustion before you’ve even started your real work. It probably looks daunting, like a road map to an unending and not especially inviting journey. But that’s not a problem with the list – it’s a problem with your attitude.

Seen correctly, a list is one thing above all else: A roadmap to achievement, and your step-by-step guide to doing what needs doing, as such it is your ally in achieving the successes you want, both the short-term immediate goals and long-term aspirations.

When you create a list, you’re performing an important mental exercise: Naming and defining the specific things you need and intend to do. It’s mental preparation for actually approaching the tasks systematically and effectively.

As you complete tasks and physically check off items as ‘done,’ you perform another important mental exercise by giving yourself a small reward: Acknowledgment, and a sense of movement and progression. Checking off items provides visible evidence that you’re actually getting somewhere, which is one of the best possible motivators to keep up your momentum.

A funny thing happens once all the items are checked off: Your perspective changes. The list that looked so imposing at the start of the day, week, month or year doesn’t seem so ominous anymore. Instead, it looks like what it is: Evidence of a job well done, and hopefully a source of personal satisfaction.

One final suggestion: Always make the last item on your list exactly the same.

Before you know it, you’ll have made a systematic, organized approach to your work and your life a die-hard habit. That’s powerful fuel for personal and professional achievement.

What’s your biggest struggle when it comes to making your list?

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