Making lists is relaxing. It makes you feel important – all those things to do. It dictates the shape of the immediate future, it calms you down, and it makes you feel good when you cross something off (list making is standard practice in therapy for depression). It might even help you get things done too.
The world divides in two when it comes to listing. Type A makes orderly lists, prioritises and calmly sets to work on them. Type B waits till panic sets in, grabs the nearest envelope and scribbles all over it, signs with relief and then loses it.
The more you have to do the more you need a list, and few people with high-powered jobs get by without them. Barbara Vanilli, chief executive of a large chain of supermarkets, says, ‘Before I go to bed, I have to write down everything that’s going to stop me sleeping. I feel I won’t forget anything I’ve written down, so my lists are a great comfort.’
Women think they are better at lists than men. Men tend to have tasks which they assemble into Action Plans whereas women just have lists of Things To Do. Jacqueline Maddocks, head of Maddocks Publishing, says, ‘My male colleagues only make lists for work, whereas I have to make lists for work and for home too. It’s essential to write things down. If you’re constantly thinking, “I must remember this,” it blocks your mind.’
James Oliver, a psychologist, has created his own ‘time management matrix’. He writes a list of things to do then organises them into categories: Things that have to be done straight away, Other things that it would be good to do today, Things that are important but haven’t got to be done immediately and Things that are less urgent but he doesn’t want to forget. ‘Using categories to order the world is the way the human mind works,’ he says. ‘After that, you should put things into hierarchies of importance.’ But he warns against the danger of Excessive List Syndrome. ‘If people get obsessed with making lists it doesn’t work. They have too many categories and lose the capacity to prioritise.’
It’s all a question of what works best for you, whether it’s a tidy notebook, a forest of Post-it notes or the back of your hand. Having tried all these, student Kate Rollins relies on a computerised list, printed out each morning to be scribbled on during the day. ‘My electronic organiser has changed my life,’ she says. ‘Up to now, I’ve always relied on my good memory, but now that I’m working and studying I find that I’ve got too much to keep in my head.’
So what are you waiting for? No, you’re not too busy to make today the first day of your upgraded time-managed life. In fact, there’s no better time than the present to begin to take an increased control of your work and life. So, get out your pencil and paper and make a list.