Using Lists to Stay Happy and Productive

If you are like me, you have a lot to get done. It can be hard to stay focused and on track even with work emails popping up, children asking for snacks, and constant technology reminders/alerts/alarms. That, my friends, is where list making comes in. I am a devoted list maker. A few years ago, I read Atul Gawande’s brilliant book, The Checklist Manifesto. Now, I was already a committed list maker by that point, but Gawande’s book showed me how list making could help me deal with an increasingly complex and demanding world. Gawande is a surgeon and applied his philosophy to creating medical checklists that help reduce clinical errors and save lives. I just need to get all my errands done, work projects completed, etc. No matter, the idea is the same. The world is coming at all of us with so much information and data. If you want to stay on track with the things that matter to you, make a list! Here’s some ways to use lists that I’ve found helpful:

Happy productivity motivation list mindfulness mindful

Use Technology

I swear by the Wunderlist app. It can be shared and synced with family or friends and specific items can be assigned accordingly. Imagine assigning your husband a must-do family task during your morning commute and finding that it has been miraculously completed by the end of the day. Hallelujah! (Okay, okay, Wunderlist doesn’t actually make your husband do things, but it sets up things up for good behavior.)

In addition to the satisfying check off bing (I’m a sucker for Pavlovian incentives), it’s also great because you can set up a variety of lists in different categories. Groceries, house projects, blog ideas – you name it!

Set Priorities

One benefit of list making is that it gives you an opportunity to reflect on what you’ll prioritize. When you have a million to-dos swirling around in your head they are all given equal importance. With a list, you can order them and focus on what’s really important. When I’m feeling overwhelmed at work, I will do a brain dump of everything on my mental list. Then, I’ll chose the manageable subset of things that I can reasonably focus on that day or within a couple of days and write it on another list. If there is something that isn’t making the cut for immediate action, I’ll take the opportunity to alert any my colleagues as needed. This exercise leaves me feeling calmer and more focused on making progress. I find it an be especially helpful to make the list for the following day before I leave work. That way, I can arrive and hit the ground running.

Leverage Small Amounts of Time

Along the lines of setting priorities, I use mini lists to ensure that I’m effectively leveraging small units of time. For example, I’ll sometimes start out my commute be entering the list of things I’d like to accomplish during that time in my Wunderlist app. My commute is more than an hour on a train, so it can be a highly productive time. Or, if I arrive at work at 9 am and have a 10 am meeting, I’ll write a short list of three things I will do before the meeting. I’ve found that this keeps me from wasting time that would otherwise feel too short to accomplish anything meaningful.

Incorporate Self-Care Into Your Lists

One of my favorite things to do is to actively incorporate self-care items into my lists. On the weekend, this may include taking a yoga class or having coffee with a friend. At work, it may include meditating for 5 minutes or stretching my neck. There is power that comes with writing something down and prioritizing it in this way. It puts my self-care strategies on equal footing with all the other demands and frees me from feeling guilty for taking time for myself…after all, it was on the list!

How do you use lists to stay happy and productive?