Beauty Bible

How To Spring Clean Your Beauty Stash

Beauty Bible Makeup

Time flies. And the evidence of that is almost certainly there, in your make-up bag/on the bathroom shelf or your dressing table. It’s ridiculously easy to let expiration dates on cosmetics fly by, or say to yourself: ‘I’ll get round to washing my make-up brushes at the weekend.’ Only – invariably – you get a much, much better offer. (Let’s face it: almost anything is a better offer…)

But just as reorganising your clothes seasonally allows you to identify gaps and make room for new finds by disposing away older items, so it can be hugely satisfying to spend an hour or two cleaning, caring for and organising the beauty products you’ve lavished your hard-earned money on and figuring out what’s missing from the line-up. So: this is the perfect time to edit your kit – and prepare your beauty stash for spring. (Before the sun really comes out and all anyone wants to do is loll around outside. )

First off, check expiry dates. You’ll probably need specs for this – or maybe even a magnifying glass – but this should really be done twice a year. Beauty products do go ‘off’ and lose effectiveness. Beyond that, there’s a potential risk of bacterial infections or breakouts. If anything’s gone beyond its best-before date (or you’re in doubt), throw it out. Use your nose: does anything smell ‘off’? And use your eyes, too: anything which has separated really needs to go. Mascaras, meanwhile, should always be ditched after no more than three months – or sooner if you have any kind of eye infection.

As a little PS, we also like to reassess what our skin may need whenever we finish a bottle or jar of anything. Are we restocking on autopilot? Have the needs of our complexion/hair changed? Beauty habits are all very well – but beauty ruts aren’t.

Be ruthless about disposing of products you haven’t used in a while

Fact: if it’s more than six months since you put a product on your face or body or hair, the realistic chances are you’re never going to use it again. This can be a really hard thing to tussle with; it seems like such a waste. A half-way house, if you feel torn about throwing something out, is to put it centre-stage on the shelf of products that you use every darned day: cleanser, toner, moisturiser. If you still haven’t opened the jar or bottle after a week passes and it’s been staring you in the face, consider it to have signed its death warrant.

Don’t put packaging straight in the bin, though

Be sure to recycle wherever you can – glass jars and plastic containers can often be put in with your other recyclables. Again, you’ll probably need a magnifying glass for this (we’re never without one!), but look on the bottom for the numbers identifying what kind of plastic it is, for recycling. (Although many councils nowadays do all the hard work for us and recycle what they can, without the need to separate. Or the need to go blind figuring out WHAT to separate).

Dispose of last year’s suncare

Sun protection isn’t cheap – so this can definitely hurt. But not as much as sunburn hurts. SPFs should never be ‘over-wintered’, but bought afresh each season to ensure optimum protection. This is the time to invest in a new SPF 30 minimum, for the coming sunlight season. (It is coming, we promise.)

Organise a ‘kit-to-go’

This is a good time to assemble a travel kit-bag with small pots of the products you like to use – for face, body and hair – so that you’re packed for any emergencies. Just add cotton pads, a needle and thread and you’re good for any last-minute getaway invites. Ditto to save time before your next trip, put together in-flight essentials and stow them in a zip-top, security-friendly plastic bag. Job done. Several Brownie points awarded.

Clean your brushes

Brushes are prime breeding grounds for germs – and every make-up artist we’ve ever spoken to recommends washing them once a week. Use just a little gentle shampoo on the bristles and swirl against the side of the sink till the water runs clean. Alternatively, you can use a professional brush cleaner which will be solvent-based – but to be honest, even though most of the solvents evaporate after you’ve done this, we still prefer the old-fashioned washing-in-warm-water technique, which feels more thorough when done correctly.

Let the brushes fully air-dry before using; leave them to dry with their ends over-hanging the edge of the counter, resting on towel so they don’t roll off. (And maybe set a diary reminder on your phone for you to do this more regularly than oh, once every spring…)

Reorganise what you have

Harness spring time’s glorious throw-the-windows-open energy to take an honest look at what’s left, and figure out how to display it more attractively. Group like with like. (It’s easier to see what you have that way.) Find pretty containers: upcycled candle jars, hand-painted vintage teacups, trays and acrylic beauty organisers.

It’s all too easy, though, for a bathroom shelf to become like one of those arcade games where you roll a penny down a lot and small change cascades off the front of the shelf. (Are we the only people to have bruised our toes with products that have fallen off when we’ve tried to add one product too many to an overcrowded…?)

So we suggest that for the Zen feeling it gives you, tidy away anything you don’t use every day, tidy away – face masks, perhaps, or depilatories/razors (as well as any medical non-necessities). Notwithstanding this neatnik advice, Jo’s tip is to keep this ‘non-everyday’ beauty stash in a glass-fronted cabinet – as all too easily out of sight can be out of mind.

The 2019 Beauty Bible Awards

Beauty Bible Awards 2019

For the past 21 years, our mission at Beauty Bible has been to cut through the hype and help women take a short-cut to products that really, really do what they say on the tin/jar/tube. We began by publishing the results in our Beauty Bible series of books, then last year put the awards online (Beautybible.com) for the first time.

The Beauty Bible Awards are judged by real women – in panels of 10 – trialling full-size products in real-time over a period of up to four months, then feeding back. Results are always amazingly consistent – and after what feels like an epic year of sending out products to over 1,000 testers, we’re delighted to declare the winners of the Beauty Bible Awards for 2019!

It comes as no surprise to us that so very, very many winners can be found right here on VH – so here’s just a small selection of the Gold winners (and one rather special Silver!) that are showcased on Gill and Shabir’s site, with a handful of the real-life rave reviews from testers’ detailed feedback. (You’ll find many more in-depth comments on our own site.)

Sarah Chapman Skinesis Overnight Facial

Cue drumroll, cue trumpets: a spectacularly splendiferous score (an average of 9.3/10 across our tester panel) for one of this superfacialist’s star products, designed to ‘recreate the effects of a Skinesis facial overnight.’

OUR TESTERS’ COMMENTS:

‘This oil is totally amazeballs! Within 24 hours skin felt ridiculously smooth, plump and moisturised. After using for a while, it looks smoother and plumper – so much better – and I have had compliments. Just lead me to the next bottle…’
‘Loved the product a lot. It smelt absolutely amazingly relaxing and helped me sleep. Within 30 minutes my skin felt softer, plumped, silky and brighter. Promised to lift, firm and make skin feel like cashmere – it did all of that’
‘People have commented how well my skin looks on make up free days, which is amazing.’

Aurelia Repair & Brighten Hand Cream

The second Gold in a row for Aurelia in the hand cream category for this rich but swiftly-absorbed product, with its glorious blend of vetiver, ylang ylang, lavender and patchouli.

OUR TESTERS’ COMMENTS:

‘This was like no other hand cream I have ever tried. For a start, it smells like you’ve just walked into a spa. The application in unreal, as it instantly absorbs into the skin. Results leave you with hands so soft they could rival a two-year-old’s. And my nails are in brilliant condition’
‘10/10! This lovely hand cream moisturised my old crêpe-y hands, LOL! Definitely has anti ageing properties. I will definitely be purchasing once this runs out’
‘I have never paid this amount for a hand cream before but I do think its worth the price.’

Lanolips Lemonaid Lip Treatment

This little tube of whipped balm is a thirst-quencher for dry lips, slicking on via an angled dispenser to deliver a zestily lemony treat.

OUR TESTERS’ COMMENTS:

‘My lips get very dry and I use lip balms all the time usually every 15-30 minutes all day, but I could go longer without reapplying this as it stayed on and actually moisturised my lips really well. By the end of two weeks they definitely felt better’
‘I love that the balm has a slight shimmer, without being obvious’
‘Very moisturising. I use every night as I have dry lips due to cancer of the oesophagus and not being able to swallow, eat or drink. I think it could be recommended to cancer units in hospitals and used by the patients to alleviate dryness.’

Beauty Bible Lip Balm (Aloe+Vitamin E)

Well, we are very proud that we scooped an Award in our own trials! This is the only product Beauty Bible has ever put our name to (and is exclusive to VH here): chunkily-shaped, it glides on beautifully and is amazingly nourishing. But don’t just trust us on this – listen to what the testers had to say!.

OUR TESTERS’ COMMENTS:

‘Liked this better than any other balm I have tried as it wasn’t at all sticky but properly moisturised my lips, rather than just sitting on the surface. Despite this very cold winter weather, they have stayed soft and lush looking and feeling’
‘Fab product. I loved this balm, which moisturised my lips excellently over the winter cold months, quickly improving texture and softness. It changed the appearance of my chapped lips; I was able to put lipstick on and it didn’t ‘bleed’ after.’

De Mamiel Dewy Facial Mist

The winner in our ‘Instant Face Saver’ category is a serum from the renowned holistic facialist and acupuncturist that works like a facial mist, spritzing onto the face to deliver a blend of hydrating, nourishing ingredients that shield the skin against environmental damage.

OUR TESTERS’ COMMENTS:
‘Simply spritz this liquid mist over the skin, inhale the uplifting scent, and watch your skin becoming, soft, smooth, dewy and refreshed, also uplifted in a rejuvenated way’
‘A pick-me-up in a bottle, like a breath of fresh air for the skin and senses’
‘I used the de Mamiel spray later in the afternoon to perk up my skin – it feels moisturised and plump after – and my mood. The scent and the fine mist make this a product that I found myself looking forward to using.’

This Works Perfect Legs Gradual Tan

Our own go-to for bare leg S.O.S.-es. won Gold in the Gradual Tanners category – so next time you have to reveal parts of your body that are currently swathed in vests and opaques, make sure you’ve this to hand. (Even though it says ‘Legs’ in the name, it’s great all over!)

OUR TESTERS’ COMMENTS:

‘A lovely body treatment. The tint is instant and the very natural colour develops gradually over two to three days, as if I have been on a sunny holiday’
‘I was thrilled that a self-tan product used on pasty white skin looked so natural; skin absorbed it very quickly and I felt as if I’d used a smooth, pampering body moisturiser. An instant tint with a slight glow,but doesn’t scream ‘I’ve been tangoed…’

Aromatherapy Associates Renewing Rose Body Oil

No question that yet again, the divine rose fragrance – always so, so consistently popular with our testers over the decades – helped nudge this AA oil towards its high score.

OUR TESTERS’ COMMENTS:

‘Top marks for this lovely fragranced oil, which absorbed within a few minutes. Skin was immediately soft, a lot more nourished and beautifully fragranced’
‘My skin had a glow from the start and it was particularly effective on my dry feet and elbows; legs look very moisturised and my scars, stretch marks and dry patches all look 100 times better’
‘I was blown away by the sheen it left on the skin. My lower legs looked ten years younger, I really mean that! They were perfectly smooth and looked like I had leg make-up on!’

Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

Chalk board graph with icons on an ascending rightward stepped graph

I was never one of those kids who was afraid of the dark. I loved the cloak of invisibility that it gave me. And while there is nothing I love more than a bright, sunny day, I have become pretty obsessed with darkness over the years – not in an ominous way (as in ‘going over to the dark side’), but in terms of the important role it plays in my wellness.

You really ought to stay in a hotel room with me, sometime, to fully understand my obsession with darkness. I travel with a roll of black gaffer tape, the better to ensure a good night’s sleep undisturbed by the cockpit’s-worth of blinking lights that many modern hotel rooms feature. My first task, on checking in (even before switching on the kettle and attacking the free shortbread), is to eliminate as many of those lights as possible with two neatly-snipped squares of gaffer tape. Message lights on phones. TV control lights. Aircon on/off lights. Charging electrical gadgets. And of course, the light ‘leaking’ through the edges of the curtains.

What I’ve discovered is that gaffer tape can also be lightly stuck to pretty much any wallpaper (well, I mightn’t try it on a gold hand-painted mural) without damaging it. So yes, I am that weird (maybe certifiable) creature who gaffer-tapes the edges of the curtains to the hotel room walls – the most extreme example of which was in a ‘presidential suite’ a hotel once upgraded me to when they’d lost my booking. Last done up in the Lyndon B. Johnson presidency, is my guess, it featured ‘shortie’ curtains that ran along the entire 10-metre window which I then taped every inch to the wall. Exactly what kind of bondage game housekeeping thought I’d been up to when the found the tape I’d peeled off in the morning and put it in the bin, I’ve no idea – but I did enjoy a really good night’s sleep. (Why don’t I just wear a sleep mask? Because – along with earplugs – I find them a bit claustrophobic. Fine on an aeroplane when there’s no alternative, but otherwise, a no-no for me.)

By now, you may well think I’m completely tonto. But in reality, light has a profound effect on sleep. I realise I’m an extreme example in terms of how even a small level of light affects me deeply, but it’s been scientifically observed that insufficient darkness throughout the night can lead to frequent, long periods of wakefulness. Of course, we’re increasingly aware of the impact of the blue light from our phones on sleep; I’ve written before about the fact that if I look at my phone (never mind computer) after about 8.30 pm, it’s the equivalent of drinking an espresso in terms of the effect on my slumber. But experts now agree that bedrooms should be as dark as possible – which includes (as we do at home) having blackout linings to curtains, and ensuring window coverings are fitted to avoid slivers of street light or early morning light from seeping in. (Ah, so that’s why the pelmet was invented…!)

According to Cheng Chi Lee, who studies circadian rhythms at University of Texas Medical School, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests we should seek out darkness for its surprising effects on health and behaviour. There’s one particularly fascinating study in which tamoxifen was used on cancer cells in mice. One control group was kept kept in cycles of 12 hours of light followed by 12 hours of complete darkness, while another the dark stage of the experiment was replaced with roughly the amount of light that might sneak under a hospital door. Even in such low levels, the cancer cells became resistant to the drug. And although this medical research was carried out on mice (and no, I’m not thrilled about that either), the scientists from Tulane University in New Orleans believe it could have implications for how cancer patients receive their treatment.

It’s well known that interfering with workers’ body clocks, meanwhile, can seriously impact on health. My hunch is that the winking lights in bedrooms and sleep environments will eventually be revealed to be more damaging than we currently understand. (But if you must have a clock with the time on? Make sure it has red digits, rather than blue or green; it’s been found to have the least impact on sleep.)

We were never built to live in such light environments as we enjoy now. For millions of years, people went to bed when it got dark and woke when it was light. Even now, when we’re lucky enough to find ourselves in nature, somewhere truly dark – and I support the Dark Skies movement, a campaign to eliminate light pollution – we feel connected to the universe in a way that feels truly primitive and (for me, at least) very, very grounding.

So while I’m eternally grateful to Thomas Edison for the invention of the light bulb – just miraculous, eh?! –it doesn’t surprise me at all to find that these unnatural, albeit low levels of night-time light may have impact on our wellbeing. If asked to make a list of our basic survival needs, food and water of course come top. Warmth, too. But I certainly know that darkness is essential for my quality of sleep, and my overall equilibrium. So if the Gaffer Tape Marketing Board is looking for a new ‘face’, I’m your woman.

Night, everyone. And lights out!

New Year’s Habits

a lit red candle surrounded by darkness

Have you ever, ever kept a New Year’s resolution beyond – oh, about 3rd January? Maybe 1st February, if you’re really pushing it? That’s because New Year’s resolutions are often completely unrealistic goals. Going to drop three dress sizes. Going to walk five miles a day. Going to give up chocolate completely. (Were we MAD???) 

 

But what actually works, we find, is to focus instead on getting into good habits. And when you sell it to yourself like that, there’s an implicit sense of forgiving. Fall off the wagon for a day, or eat a Twix, or forget to drink those two litres of water, and it doesn’t feel catastrophic at all. You can just gently nudge yourself to do better tomorrow, rather than feeling like you’ve blown it.

 

Good habits don’t happen overnight, of course. 21 days is often quoted as the minimum, but often it’s longer than that. The average is actually two months – 66 days, to be exact (according to the most famous study into the subject, by University College London health psychology researcher Philippa Lally). But don’t let that put you off. And don’t aim ridiculously high; honestly, it’s the small changes that can make the biggest difference, because they’re achievable. 

 

So, here are our top recommendations for little habit shifts that could pretty much change your life – and your wellbeing levels – by the time 2020 rolls around…

 

Eat every few hours. (Don’t wait till you’re ready to gnaw your arm off.) It’s such a common misconception that skipping meals helps you lose weight. In fact, that’s going to impact on your blood sugar levels, making you ravenously hungry – often turning to caffeine or a sugar hit, as an antidote, keeping you on that rollercoaster. Sometimes, we might feel we need to skip meals because we’re working to a deadline, or because we’ve got a big dinner coming up – but far better to snack healthily. Keep a power bar (not one of the sugary ones), a banana, some almonds or other nuts in your work bag, so that you’re never without something healthy to nibble on. 

 

Make enough dinner to take leftovers to work. It’s so easy to grab a sandwich (always unappetisingly chilled) for lunch, when we really could do better than that. We’re not sure about the concept of meal-prepping on the weekend for the week ahead that is sometimes suggested – we’d rather spend our weekends out there in the fresh air, yomping the hills or planting bulbs, thanks, but what is perfectly realistic is to cook a little more supper and bring the extra to work next day. (Team Beauty Bible does this and Jo’s fridge is home to many a healthy Tupperware-d leftover waiting to be re-heated for lunch!) 

 

Put your workouts in your diary. Think of them as an appointment with your healthier self. We are great believers in the power of self-care. It’s not selfish; whenever we have to take care of anyone else, we need to take care of ourselves, first. (The analogy is that in-flight message which tells you to put the oxygen mask on yourself, before helping anyone else.) It can feel hard to squeeze in a workout, or a walk. But if that’s a fixed point in your diary, it’s easier to plan around it. (We generally find that our energy levels are boosted by a power-walk or a yoga class, and that work goes much more smoothly afterwards when we’re back at our desks. So it’s a win-win.)

 

Buy yourself a big water bottle, and keep it on your desk.It’s now possible to get very generously-proportioned water bottles to keep water cool and encourage day-long sipping. You probably wouldn’t want to carry this size around with you (we like the Chilly’s 750ml bottle, BTW), but get through one in the morning and one in the afternoon and you’re two-thirds of the way there with your daily water goals. And whenever you feel stressed, take a glug of water. It’s amazing how it cools the brain as well as the body.

 

Set a limit on social media. We find the new ScreenTime social media limiting app pretty scary, actually, in terms of how quickly we can ratchet up half an hour of scrolling through Instagram pics or watching daft Facebook videos. (We find it much easier to avoid Twitter. Fact: nobody is ever, ever going to go to their grave wishing they’d spent more time on Twitter.) But for 2019, we’re really, really going to try to stick to our self-imposed limit – and maybe even reduce it over time. It’s way, way too easy to get lost in social media – so what we really find helps is having a book or a Kindle or a glossy magazine with us at all times, so there’s no risk of mindless scrolling because there’s nothing else to do. If it’s hard, switch your phone off. You really have to think twice about how important seeing someone’s latest ‘selfie’ is, before switching it on again just to look at that.

 

Above all, be kind to yourself. See above – but you should never, ever feel guilty about carving out time in a busy life just for you. Maybe for a massage. Or a class of some kind. Or even for a nap. We live in incredibly stressful, uncertain times and it’s only by charging up our batteries that we can be expected to cope – so never feel bad about doing the things that help you do just that. And above all, try really hard not to beat yourself up if habits do sometimes slip. Don’t throw your hands up and go, ‘Well, that’s that, then. I’ve failed.’ Just get back on the horse (as Sarah would definitely say), and re-establish your goal. No biggie. 

 

And have a wonderful, healthy 2019, won’t you?

The Beauty Bible’s Gift Edit

top down of a white present wrappe din gold ribbon on pink background

We do not want ornaments. We do not have room on our bedside tables for any more books (lovely as they are). We definitely don’t want ‘joke’ presents which sit around in a bag in the hall awaiting a trip to a nearby town, to drop them at a charity shop. (Lest the giver finds their singing bass –and yes, we got those – in a nearby Oxfam.) We’ve reached the point where what we really, really want (to quote the Spice Girls) is something that makes us feel pampered, or perks up our faces, or shifts our mood. And working on the basis that buying friends and family the things you rate so much you’d be thrilled to receive them yourself is a darned good place to start your shopping, here’s what we’re asking Santa for, for Christmas 2018 – from stocking fillers to splurges.

Margaret Dabbs Fabulous Cracker, £12. It’s a cracker! No, it really is – but it’s our kind of cracker, which pulls to reveal a 15 ml of her Nourishing Nail & Cuticle Serum, a cult favourite sized to slip perfectly in the handbag for on-the-go massaging into the nail area. (We like to do this whenever someone’s keeping us waiting. Much better for your nails and cuticles than scrolling through Instagram.)

Temple Spa Breath of Life Aromatherapy Inhalation Essence, £12. We’d rather find this in the toe of a stocking than a satsuma (and that’s saying something). A head-clearing ‘whoosh’!, it’s perfect for anyone who finds the festive season a bit stressful but is also very protective against winter bugs, via its uplifting but also antibacterial/antiviral essential oil blend of eucalyptus, menthol and tea tree.

Soapsmith Bloomsbury Bath Soak, £14 for 350ml. This water-softening soak is a rose bouquet garlanded by honeysuckle, primrose and peony (romantically designed to recreate the smell of flowerbeds in Bloomsbury Square gardens), infusing the water with a revitalising blend of Dead Sea salts, Epsom salts and cocoa butter. (Give it to a busy mum friend with a voucher for babysitting her kids while she takes a long, indulgent bath.)

This Works Sleep Power Nap Spray – Travel Duo, £15. The latest sleep-beckoning innovation from This Works is an aromatherapy-powered spritz to help you optimise even the most fleeting opportunities to snooze, with a clinically-proven blend of vetiver, lavender and chamomile. Can you hear us snoring from there?

Neom Organics Happiness Home Mist, £18. We all want our homes to be filled with the scent of happiness during the festive season – and this just is a ‘happy’ smell, with its positive, uplifting blend of white neroli, lemon and mimosa. (Sure beats Febreze.)

Biobelle My Diary Of Beauty Secrets Facial Mask Kit, £24. Oh, we love a face mask – that invitation to ‘relax for 15 minutes’ while it gets to work. (Oh, alright then!) We also love the design of this kit, like a secret diary that flips open to reveal six sheet masks for different skincare actions: soothing and hydrating, brightening, glow-boosting, age-prevention, firming, moisturising and more. That’s like giving someone six excuses to take time out and pamper themselves.

Hayo’u Beauty Restorer Lite, £35. We’re massive fans of facial massage, and these polished jade stones – from Chinese medical practitioner Katie Brindle – are just miraculous for draining lymph, eliminating puffiness, boosting glow and generally banishing tension in a clenched jaw at the end of a stressful day.

Aromatherapy Associates Miniature Bath & Shower Oil Collection, £40. This has probably appeared in every single gift guide we’ve ever collated – and it probably always will. There is literally nothing out there to rival the mood-shifting power of Aromatherapy Associates oils, which fill the entire house with fragrance via a single capful. (Too many of them to count have won Beauty Bible Awards, over the years.) Here’s the entire line-up, in 3 ml miniature form, all dressed up for Christmas this year with a stunning Maria Grachvogel print.

Aurelia Probiotic Skincare Refine & Glow Miracle Collection, £42. Aurelia’s products have done so well with Beauty Bible testers – again, pretty much everything in this generously-proportioned print bag has scooped one of our awards over the years: Miracle Cleanser (30 ml), Refine & Polish Miracle Balm (15 ml), a little 2ml size of the gloriously neroli-scented Cell Repair Night Oil, with a bamboo muslin cloth for every day (or more probably night) of the week.

And a stocking filler-y PS: Beauty Bible Lip Balm. Small blowing of own (angelic) trumpet here: our only ever beauty product, chunky and luscious and gloriously rich in shea butter, vitamin and E and aloe vera. We launched it quite simply because it’s the best balm Team Beauty Bible has ever, ever tried ourselves – and everyone whose stocking we tuck it into agrees. And let’s face it: when cold, Christmassy winds blow (actually infinitely preferable to grey, warm gloom), can you ever have too many lip balms?

Have a great one, with love from Jo, Sarah (and our elves).

The Joy Of Lists

paper aeroplanes with single pink

If you stand still for long enough around here, someone will put you on a Google spreadsheet. Well, I exaggerate – but only slightly. Because without my list-making apps and online spreadsheets – not to mention a fair amount of list-assisting stationery – I think my life would probably fall apart. Lists, I’m fairly sure, are the secret of true happiness.

This is, of course, the ultimate time of year for lists. Does anyone on earth go Christmas shopping without one? (With the exception of my beloved, anyway?) There is something incredibly comforting about the tick, tick, ticking of people on your Christmas present list – every tick taking you closer to what we always hope will be a wonderful day with family or friends, sometimes at what feels like breakneck speed but would be even scarier if our list wasn’t basically whispering, silently: ‘Don’t worry. You’ve got it all under control here.’

I absolutely believe that lists are good for mental health. In this too-much-to-do-in-too-little-time-world, we constantly run the risk of forgetting stuff – and I don’t know anyone that doesn’t stress out. We’re juggling work, friends, family and countless other To Dos. The counterpoint to an overcrowded mind, a list ensures you don’t forget something. I think it works two ways. First off, when you write it down, you can sort of relax a bit. But also, for me, the very gesture of writing it down somehow fixes whatever it is I need to buy/do/reply to/ask someone else to do in my brain so that I’m more likely to remember that ‘To Do’ spontaneously without even needing to refer to aforementioned list. (Though I do, of course.) The key is not to fall into the trap of believing that by writing someone on a list, it’s actually been DONE – and I do know people who are guilty of that. Lists must be referred to, ticked off, referenced. Preferably several times a day.

It’s slightly against the conventional wisdom but I always have several lists going on at the same time. First off, there’s the lives-up-to-its name app Wunderlist (which I wrote about here, in another editorial, if you want to explore it in depth). I know so many people who’ve downloaded this app now that I really ought to be on a hefty commission from them. (Are you reading this, Wunderlist???) But nobody I know has regretted it or found it anything but invaluable.

Secondly, I have my 5 Days A Week planner, which goes everywhere with me and tethers me to the work I have to do each day. As a stationery junkie, I get these from a very wonderful company called Kikki K. – whose graphics are so, so appealing. I recently met Kikki K.’s founder Kristina Karlsson, instantly lapsing embarrassingly into fangirl-mode. Honestly, I don’t think I’d have been more excited to meet one of my musical heroes – perhaps Joni Mitchell or Madonna or Carly Simon (come to think of it I did once meet Carly Simon and it was just a shade disappointing, I have to report.)

Every Friday night, the last thing I do before I leave the office is to fill in the bare bones of the following week’s To Do list, with work actions for each day. These are fleshed out (and added to) as the week progresses, and it’s fair to say that a number of arrows appear on the page, moving things from Monday to Wednesday or even bouncing them into next week. But it means that every morning, when I sit down at my desk (before I do my ten minute Calm app meditation), I know about all the important things I have to prioritise that day. There are stars. There are asterisks. There’s underlining. But I honestly feel it’s like the framework to my week. Without the list, I am sunk; on the rare occasions I leave for a few days on the road for work without taking it with me, I have to get someone to photograph it and send it to me – because there’s bound to be something I’d otherwise forget, and I truly hate that feeling. (Strong word. Entirely accurate, however.) And if it’s a really, really, really busy week, I’ll ALSO use a daily planner, where I can make even more notes in the margins!

According to David Allen, a time management expert whose book on list-making – Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity I have on my bedside table (yes, I am THAT sad), it’s not enough to scrawl ‘Mum’ or ‘Sainsburys’ on a Post-It note. He prescribes detail. Do you have to write an e-mail, run an errand, make a call – and what’s the purpose? Apparently, if the list isn’t clear, your tasks don’t get done. Which is why when I sometimes write a To Do in ink on my hand – like some kind of schoolgirl throwback – I can almost never remember it. I’m still staring at the ghost lettering ‘JS’ on my left hand, which I wrote yesterday and haven’t managed to remove despite several hand-washings, and can’t for the life of me remember what it means.

Of course I mentioned Google spreadsheets at the beginning of this editorial – only partly in jest. Because without them, Sarah and I, and Amy (our calm and patient Beauty Bible right-hand), and Jessie (who co-ordinates all our Beauty Bible testers and their scores/feedback) would be completely sunk. Ditto, me and my team at The Perfume Society. Different team, different Google.docs. But I am going to share a little tip that we’ve all found useful for fleshing out a Google.doc, which is to use a traffic-light colour system. Any ‘To Do’ action starts off in red. Then when the relevant e-mail’s been sent, or the call’s been made, it is turned to amber via the spreadsheet’s drop-down menu. When the action is satisfactorily concluded, it doesn’t get ticked off but is instead turned green. At a glance, everyone can look at a spreadsheet and see what still needs to be done.

Is my love of lists excessive control freakery? Am I wrong to map out my life to the enth degree, eliminating any possibility for spontaneity? I don’t think so. I like to be super-organised, sure. But personally, in what often feels like a very uncertain and scary world, lists somehow also make me feel a bit safer – even if it is a complete illusion. And if Google.docs are the equivalent of my comfort blanket, they’re probably more acceptable in an office environment than hiding in the corner with a threadbare soft toy.