My Life System #24: Lists

I live life through lists. To-Do lists. Key priorities. Ideas. Books to read. What to blog about. Discussion points pre- and post-meetings. And so on. I find lists very helpful. Writing things down in my notebook keeps the mind clear. It is something I had read in David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” book many years ago. The idea is not to keep the To-Dos in the mind because they can crowd one’s thinking. Better to have them part of some list and out of the mind. Also, crossing off items as they get done gives a sense of accomplishment.

From The Guardian: “Psychologist and author Dr David Cohen puts our love of to-do lists down to three reasons: they dampen anxiety about the chaos of life; they give us a structure, a plan that we can stick to; and they are proof of what we have achieved that day, week or month.”

The most important list is the To-Do list. We all have an endless list of tasks to accomplish. I have a page in my spiral book to which I keep adding. When I don’t have access to my book, I write it on a folded page that I keep in my pocket temporarily before moving it to my book. At the end of the day, I will create a shorter list of things I need to get done the next day. I don’t use any apps for this. I find the paper-pen combo gives me the most flexibility. I can scribble around a task. I can create sub-lists. Perhaps, much of this can be done digitally also, but in some matters, I am very much an analog person!

Take this series for example. I made a list of topics that I could cover. Then, I typed it up in a Word document. New ideas keep coming which I write down in my book as soon as they emerge, and I add to the Word doc. Word helps me reshuffle the order. I do the same for the Blog themes. These are lists that don’t have to be updated frequently.

The To-Dos are constantly growing. An email or WhatsApp needs some action. Someone at home wants something done. Meetings create many follow-ups. I list them down as they are called out. And then at the end of the day, I scratch out the ones which have been done, and then aggregate the others together.  The one thing I have learnt is that it is never possible to do every task. In fact, at times, let some time elapse, and many tasks which appeared important and urgent when they were listed, perhaps don’t even need to get done! The To-Dos list will always be an infinite stream; it is for us to decide which ones to do to move life and relationships forward.

I carry a folded page and pen even when I go walking every morning. I find that the best time for my thinking, and random ideas float across, which I add to the list. Some will eventually get discarded, but by writing them down, I keep the mind clutter-free for new ideas to enter. Also, there are times when something said or read triggers a memory or new idea. By ensuring I capture it in the moment, I am not loading my subconscious to ensure that idea is not missed.

Lists have helped me keep my mind clear and unencumbered, have more productive days knowing there are some key tasks that just have to be done before I sleep, go into meetings and conversations prepared with a clear plan, and ensure that when others expect me to do something I do not disappoint them with an “Oh, I forgot.”

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.