The Art of List Making

I am a compulsive list maker. My mother was a list maker. I get it from her. Her last list before she died had these three items on it:

·         Dog food
·         Toilet Paper
·         Vodka

Clearly she had her priorities straight. This is what lists help you do: keep a clear picture of what is important to you. As I write this post I am looking at a quote I have taped to my motivation wall:

“Create the world you want, and fill it with the opportunities that matter to you.”                      –Alicia Keys

Some people can do this (have a balanced, well thought out, intentionally focused life) without making lists. These people are either master minds (whom we should be afraid of or perhaps put in charge of our country) or simply do not suffer from “I want/need/have to do everything” syndrome like I do. The opportunities that matter to me often come crashing into my life, like forty-two runaway freight trains headed to the same location (my brain) at once.

So, in order to avoid an aneurysm or a visit to the psychiatric hospital I make a lot of lists. I have two kinds of lists: linear lists and non-linear lists.

Linear lists are nifty top to bottom items written in a nice, neat orderly fashion…

speaking of neat and orderly, I hate when one of my kids or husband messes with these lists and writes something like: “Duncan was here” or “Pay attention to your husband”…then I have to crumple and start the list over…

…but I digress…what is comforting about linear lists is you get to cross things off (which for compulsive list makers creates a sense of ‘I am in control of my life’ euphoria). In my years upon years of journals I have several regularly repeating linear list titles which are pretty standard: Groceries; To Dos; Things to Write About. Interestingly enough I just now pulled out journal from 2009 and the first page had a “Things to Write About” list:

·         Diamond Lake
·         Grandma’s coffee stained saucer
·         Mom’s purse that still smells like cigarettes
·         Lists! (See? List making keeps you focused. Here I am                     writing about lists after only four short years!)

Side note: Maria just walked into my office (it is 10:30 am on Sunday, yeah we missed church-this will end up on a list I am sure) saying her head was about to explode from stress. She suffers from runaway freight trains too: three tests on three different subjects for Honors English tomorrow but has to go spend 3 hours speaking to potential incoming students at the open house at Gonzaga Prep. She does not know how she will fit everything in! Oh my daughter, step into my world and let me show you how to spend two hours making a list  on how to best prioritize the next eight.

Here are a few additional linear “H Street” lists of note:

H Worries
It’s interesting to look back on the things that worried me yesterday or a few years ago. When there is an item that continues to stay on the list I know I need to zero in and eventually contend with the worry. I look forward to the day when ‘money’ isn’t on the worry list but with the size or my family this may never happen. Silly worries like contracting the bird flu and cutting myself with the lids of tin cans only show up on this list every so often. It is still soothing to know that so far these things have not yet happened. But I did finally conclude that the word ‘clutter’ has been on my list since kids got here (its a personal space issue). It was this realization that made me finally decide I was NOT going to make a super awesome sculpture with the 26 or so empty laundry detergent bottles I had collected over the course of a year. The idea (though super cool in concept) was kind of hoarderish (that is not a word) and added to the household clutter so I finally sent them to the recycle bin. But I have to say, seeing that many empty bottles made me realize something: one bottle does NOT do 100 loads because that would mean I did 2600 hundred loads of laundry this last year and I think it is theoretically closer to 1095. List making can help uncover false promises.


Things I Would Do if I Did Not Have so much CRAP on My To Do List
Not ONE of the items I have on this list is practical. Case in point: I am probably never going to hike the 2500 mile long Pacific Crest Trail. I don’t hike much…at all. Plus the “To Do List” will always be filled with crap. But this is still a fun list for fanciful free time possibilities.

Things I Did Not Know Were Important Before I Watched “The Oprah Winfrey Show”

I did not actually watch the Oprah Winfrey Show enough when it was on the air to have a acquired a really long list here but I feel it is very important to make note of a couple things: a good bra really does make a difference. Also, one probably should rotate pillows that are older than ten years OUT of the house and into the trash. At ten years, they contain icky things…and smell bad…and look worse. I never noticed before Oprah told me.

Diets that Do Not Work

This is a perpetually growing list for me. It is important to review regularly (and accept) that certain methods of weight loss attempts simply do not work (at least for me). For instance: the “Slim Fast for Breakfast, Big Mac/Large Fry for Lunch, Lettuce for Dinner” Diet left me feeling a little funky and with zero weight loss. (Plus I do not much like lettuce.) As someone who has been on/off/on diets for almost thirty years, I can tell you it’s best to just not BE on any kind of diet. Yet the list continues to grow. I hope to eventually gain clarity (and not weight) on this subject. Perhaps this list will someday help.

New Years Goals and Resolutions

It’s funny to compare manic years when this list has had (take for instance 2010) 42 items on it including “run four marathons” and “write a couple of books” to other years (like 2012) where my list had intangible goals like “be authentic”, “bloom where you are planted” and “give”. I crossed a larger ratio of things off the list in 2010 but had a hell of a lot more fun in 2012.

Pros and Cons

This is a list making tactic I resort to when I need a more carefully thought-through approach to decision making than the magic eight ball or ‘eeney meeney miney mo’. It’s a clear cut way to end obsessing…or grow it, depending on the pro/con balance.

Neat Looking Words I Need to Either Use or Look Up (a.k.a. ‘WORDS’)

From brainy books like “Crime and Punishment” to books that make me feel happy even at 46 years-old, like “One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish” there are always new words…all the time…I so love words. For instance, how did I ever live without the word titular? Or yink? (Dr. Seuss is my make up your own words hero.)

But once in a while I turn to non-linear lists when I feel scattered and unable to think in an orderly linear manner. These lists are almost always in color and usually quite haphazard but very satisfying, especially to the right side of my brain. Usually I just start with some ink pens and start writing words….

Sometimes they are prayer lists:

Sometimes they are cheer myself up with positive thoughts lists:

Sometimes they are new attitude lists:

These non-linear (I like to use the word cattywampus) lists are as close to meditation as I will probably ever get on account of the fact that I don’t sit still well unless I am doing something. This kind of list helps me create a state of being instead of doing or should be doing.

Whether linear or cattywampus (interesting note: this word is not in my 1988 Merriam-Webster dictionary from college, nor in my iPad spell check but IS in the 2013 Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary), list making helps me redirect some of the incoming freight trains, hop aboard the ones that are important, and scrap the rest, like well intended (but empty) laundry bottles.


  1. Hahahahahhaha! I loved it! Soooo funny!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    P.S (thanks for teaching me your list making ways yesterday! it helps a ton! No joke! it really kept me focused too!)


    1. peaceof8 says:

      Well, beautiful daughter, glad I could help with your freight trains:) Thank YOU for being so supportive!


Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s