I am constantly writing lists. Shopping lists, to-do lists, must-not-forget lists… In the past I wrote these lists on paper, now I write them in Notes on my iPhone, or in my shopping list app. This is mostly so that I don’t need to rely on my limited brain capacity. A couple of years ago, I did a “time management with Outlook” training, in which we were told to create task lists, calendar entries, and follow-ups for anything and everything, both at work and at home. The idea was to use tools available via Outlook to organise our projects and next steps, thereby liberating our brains from all those obligations that would otherwise be swirling around in our heads. Although I haven’t exactly implemented the system to the letter, I have to admit that for the last couple of years I’ve been able to let go of work when I leave the office and had less sleepless nights worrying about everything I have to do the next day.
The other benefit of this Outlook system is that you can easily review all your completed tasks at the end of the week to reassure yourself that you’ve actually done something. Sending emails, having meetings, working on endless PowerPoint presentations and 1-pagers… it’s easy for the working week to go by without any concrete evidence of your efforts. Writing lists and ticking off the items one by one gives me a sense of accomplishment. Although, naturally, I never manage to finish everything on the list, as I’m constantly adding to it.
I have also perfected my packing list for travelling and I now have a very comprehensive list covering everything from the basics that I need on every trip through to more niche items for specific types of holidays. When visiting my family in Sweden or England, I won’t need things like shampoo that I have left behind or can easily borrow. On the other hand, skiing weekends and beach holidays each require very different equipment. My ski boots would make an interesting fashion statement in Bali, while my sarong would do little to keep me warm in Chamonix. Now that may seem obvious, but it’s the details that are easy to forget: my wallet with euros, flip flops for communal showers, a torch for finding the door during the night without waking everyone up, SPF 50 sun cream to protect my nose from going all Rudolph… I can just check my list before leaving and I’ll be sure to have all the those little extras to make my trip more comfortable. (Let me know if you want a copy of The List, although the key is to adapt it 100% to your personal requirements. There is no need for men to bring make-up and bras… unless you’re into that sort of thing. No judging.)
Of course I have a special list for my South America trip. It’s a balance between not wanting to forget anything that I might really miss, and trying to heed all the advice of experienced backpackers who say that your biggest regret will be taking too much. The goal, apparently, is to travel with a lightweight backpack of just 45 litres. Sounds great in theory, but I can’t quite see how I will ever manage this…
I also love lists like “the 100 books to read before you die”. There are so many books in the world – It helps to be guided towards a few that you know are going to be worth reading! In a similar vein, one of our former senior directors (Jim Lafferty, a great, if polarising, motivational speaker) once gave a memorable training on work-life balance and encouraged us to write a list of 100 things to do before we die. The idea was to do at least two of these every year. It could be simple things like “wear red lipstick”, which you can complete in one day, or things that require more long-term effort, such as getting your book published. (I’ve done the former, still working on the latter.) It’s actually surprisingly difficult to come up with 100, and most people get stuck around the 50 mark. Speaking of which, I need to look for mine – it’s from the days in which I was still writing on paper, so it’s bound to be hidden away in some drawer at home.
One of my friends once told me that she’s “not a box-ticker”. But I don’t think that’s what I’m doing. Writing lists in no way takes away from the experiences I have along the way, or prevents me from being spontaneous. If anything, it helps me have more experiences, and then leaves me the freedom to enjoy each experience to the fullest. Long live lists!