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Fantastic Lists and How to Use Them

Updated on January 16, 2017Writing Tips
Fantastic Lists and How to Use Them image

If you want to get more done, lists are potent tools that can make you a productivity wizard. Our grimoire will reveal the most fantastic lists and teach you how to wield their power.


Goal Lists

Goal lists are for plotting your long game strategy. What do you want to accomplish in the next six months, year, five years? Odds are, you already have some things in mind. Put them in writing! Research shows that those with clear written goals achieve about 50% more of them than those without.

Goals can seem nebulous until we actually commit to them—the things we hope to do “someday” don’t happen unless we put a plan into action. First, look at the big picture. What do you want to achieve? Put it in writing. For instance, if you’ve been telling yourself that you want to write your memoir, write down that goal. Now, break that goal down into actionable steps. The first steps might be something like: “Prepare an outline” or “Write 500 words per day.” You can then add those action items to your . . .

To-Do Lists

As lists go, it doesn’t get any more classic than the time-honored to-do list. These lists focus on short-term (usually daily) goals. Unfortunately, we sometimes feel compelled to use them less like a productivity tool and more like a massive backlog. Backlogs are more likely to stress us out by putting the focus on everything that’s unfinished. Prioritizing is the key to creating to-do list that will help keep us sane rather than overwhelmed.

Experts suggest you keep your to-do lists simple and focused. Try to limit them to no more than three main items per day, and consider breaking those items down into smaller sub-tasks. (Save the big, overarching tasks for your goal list.) If you have a zillion things you want to accomplish and you feel the urge to write a massive list, go ahead and get it out of your system, but then dive back in and select the most important tasks to focus on right now, the ones that will help you make the most immediate progress toward your goal. Pro tip: Write your to-do list the at the end of the day so you can tackle it fresh in the morning.

Idea Lists

Have you ever found yourself thinking, I had a great idea for that project once . . . if I could only remember what it was! We all do it—inspiration can be fleeting. Keeping an idea list can help you log those ideas and shape the best of them into reality.

Technology makes keeping a record of your ideas much simpler. Most of us are within reach of our smartphones or other mobile devices at any given time, so make use of apps to help you capture those moments of inspiration. You could use a note-taking app to jot down your ideas, or try a cloud-based solution such as Evernote or Dropbox to keep things handy no matter what device you’re using. Refer to your idea lists when you’re running short on creativity or motivation.

Helpful Tools and Resources Lists

You’ve got a big writing project to wrap up. You swear you saw an ad somewhere for a useful writing app that could help you proofread. What was that thing called again? (Um . . . Grammarly, perhaps?) Your brain is bombarded with a ton of input every day. Don’t count on it to retrieve information you saw in passing—keep a list.

Perhaps not surprisingly, there are useful tools available to help you save lists of useful tools and online resources. Bookmarking apps like Pocket help you file things away to reference later. (Or you could kick it old school and just use your browser’s native bookmarking function.) When you come across a tool or resource you think you might have a use for, bookmark it and categorize it so you’ll be able to track it down quickly when you need it.

Book Reading Lists

Avid readers already know the benefits of losing themselves in a good book, but science bears it out—reading reduces stress. In fact, it can lower stress levels by 68%, which makes it superior to more traditional methods like listening to music or making a cup of tea. Since reading is so good for you, why not keep a list of books you’d like to explore?

Goodreads will help you create shelves where you can store your “Want to Read” finds, and it works cooperatively with Kindle and Nook if e-reading happens to be your thing. If you prefer a more streamlined system, you could create a spreadsheet and add the titles and authors of books you find intriguing. For a low-tech approach, keep a handwritten list. You could even write it on a sheet of paper, fold it in half, and use it as a bookmark so it’s handy when you’re ready for your next reading adventure.

Done Lists

We always seem to have tons of things we want to accomplish at any given time. People remember unfinished or interrupted tasks better than those they’ve completed. It’s great to have projects and goals, but they can become overwhelming when we focus solely on what we haven’t accomplished without looking back to acknowledge what we have. That’s where the ego-boosting done list comes in.

At the end of a busy week, sit down and make a list of some of your major accomplishments. You may not have finished everything you set out to do, but remembering what you did will help you keep a positive focus and stay motivated. You can use your weekly done lists to create a self-affirming month-end and year-end list, too. You’ve done stuff! Pat yourself on the back.

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