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.

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