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Lists are a big part of my life. People always tease me about my compulsive list-making.

I just don’t know any other way of living. I make lists for everything and it seems to work well for me. I actually wonder how people remember or get anything done without a list.

Over all my years in list making, I’ve come to realize a few important things have  helped me get better at writing lists.

I don’t use special symbols like a bullet journal; I tend to keep things simple because that’s what works for me. I don’t want to have to decipher my lists.

Here are some tips that could help you with your list making:

Freshen up your brain dumps:

We all know the power of a brain dump. Emptying your head with everything in the world that you need to do so it’s all out there and then you start to schedule.

However, I’ve found that keeping the same running list going can make you miss things. If you keep the same running list going, in time you start to overlook items because they become too familiar. They become background noise.

So, every once in a while, it’s good practice to simply do a fresh brain dump. Trust me, you’ll end up finding items that you realize you haven’t scheduled or completed.

Keep permanent lists:

Lists that are used regularly should be made permanent. I don’t travel very often so I don’t have a go bag. Instead, I keep a list of items in my phone that is never deleted. So, whenever I do have occasion to travel, I don’t have to think about what I need to take every time.

I know people who actually have a bunch of laminated lists in their planners, starting from regular grocery items to household chores. It’s a good way to save time and not have to re-invent the wheel.

Write actionable to-do lists

I’m pretty sure most of the people who use lists have a to-do list. Some of us even have daily, monthly and yearly to-do’s. Whether you keep your list on little post-it notes or an elaborate planner, don’t forget to use a few of these rules to make your lists more effective:

  • Use action words. I’m sure you’ve heard this a hundred times before. But using action words not only reminds you of what you need to do, but it also signifies to your brain that you need to get moving. So, the next time you write a “Proposal”, write “Draft Proposal” instead.
  • Add context. Elaborate on your item. So “Draft Report” for example, becomes “Draft Proposal on Valuation for XYZ Company”.
  • Break down your lists. Instead of just one item, this could be done as a series of to-do’s that you can break down. For example, “Review Company Background on XYZ; Research best methods for Valuation for XYZ and review fee terms for valuation.” I’m sure you understand where I’m going with this.
  • Add due dates. I use a daily planner for my to-do lists. So I automatically schedule in when I want to complete the task (and how long it might take). If you’re not using a dated diary, write in due dates for your to-do items.

Electronic vs. Paper lists:

Whether lists should be electronic or paper, is a personal choice. Electronic lists have the inherent advantage flexibility. You can move around items, edit them, schedule them on your phone with reminders, and the list goes on. With Paper Lists you get the satisfaction of crossing out items (which is a great feeling) and the act of writing actually helps you remember your lists better, while re-writing unfinished items calls you to action.

Personally, I use both. I use Wunderlist for my running list of items, scheduling items to be done at a certain time and permanent lists (like packing lists) which I don’t need to change. I use my daily planner for daily, weekly and monthly lists.


If you can work through your day without a list, more power to you.

For those of us who struggle to find structure and get things done, lists are a powerful way to improve your productivity.