Our Lust for Lists

by | Sep 7, 2012 | Interviews | 1 comment

A journalist from Chile who works for La Tercera sent me interview questions for a story she is writing on lists (since I am the author of To-Do List: From Buying Milk to Finding a Soul Mate, What Our Lists Reveal About Us and the “world’s leading todolistologist” :). Once her story is published, I will share it. I also thought I would share my answers with you. Especially because I am planning to offer an upcoming todolistology course; this might inspire you and you might want to join me. To stay in the loop and find out more about the course, please sign up here.

New Year’s Resolutions of a Brooklyn 16-Year-Old Girl, 1956

Why do we need to make checklists?
We make to-do lists because we would be lost without them. We have too many things to do to remember them all. Writing a list relieves anxiety because we record everything we have to remember and get done. Once it’s down on the list, we can stop worrying about it so much.

Why people still prefer the tactile experience of writing their lists with pen and paper?
Although I use an online to-do list program Things, I am still a huge believer in writing a list with pen and paper. Eighty-nine percent in my listmaker survey also prefer writing lists with pen and paper. The tactile experience of writing a list in your own handwriting is a chance to settle down and detach from the infinity of the Internet and settle into yourself, to feel more grounded. Now you are in own world, thinking about what you need to today, tomorrow, or in this lifetime.

A list written in your own handwriting is more personal, like a contract with yourself. It carries more weight. I accomplish a higher percentage of the items on my handwritten lists than my electronic ones. Plus when you handwrite you can doodle and be creative, and our lists are one of the everyday places where we can be creative.

Why do so many people hang on to their lists over the years? What does a list say of us?
Many people hang on to their lists like diaries or photographs and have sent them to me for my book, blog, and magazine. I had a woman who sent me a list from 1956 that was over 50 years old. They were her New Year’s Resolutions, written at midnight. It said things like, “I will start every day by grinning in the mirror” and “I will gossip a little less maliciously with Ruth.” A list is a snapshot of what we want in our lives. It’s a breath in time of our desires and obligations. It can be more revealing than a diary entry because it reveals the whole range of things—from the mundane to the meaningful—that you wanted at a certain moment in your life.

Why we like to write the things we have already done?
I found in my survey of over 600 listmakers that 50% write down tasks after accomplishing them. Of course, we all need a little extra momentum to get going on our lists. Crossing things off feels good.

Why do we need to put even our thoughts on lists?

A list is a way to create order and we need to create order in our thoughts in order to make decisions and see the world clearly. I am also a big fan of listing fears because our fears can get so large and inchoate and can rule us. When we list our fears and then let them go, we create a lot of space for movement in our lives.

Are our lives are better with lists?
Yes! With a caveat. Our lives are better with lists as long as we also build our muscle to turn off the list. Listmaking, like the Internet, can be addictive. If you rule your list, rather than letting it rule you, your lists will make your life better. Listmaking can help you get things done, tune into your dreams, understand your self better, and create magic in your life (there is a way that writing it down, especially in your own handwriting, can help make things happen).

What is the positive side of making lists? What is the negative side?
The positive sides: lists create order out of chaos, clarity where there was none. Lists are often a rational step that we must take in order to then have faith in our intuition. We might make the list, and only after the list, do we feel comfortable going with our gut instinct. Lists make the world go round. Rarely do big things in life get done without some kind of list.

The negative side is list addiction, which is rampant in the U.S. The negative side is that you never take pleasure because you are waiting for the next fix of crossing things off, the next thing to do. If you are a to-do-list addict it is important for you to cultivate list-free zones, ideally doing things that are pleasurable to you, whatever they might be: dance, yoga, long walks, sex, writing, etc. I will note however that lists can even improve your sex life in the list-free zone! You can make a list of all the ways and places where you like to be touched and share it with your partner.

Why do you say that the lists are also a tool for self-examination, action and decision-making?
Lists are not necessarily boring or dry. You can make lists of what you want in your life for the next year, the next ten years, or in your life as a whole. You can make a list of how you want to feel in your work or a marriage. A list is a natural way to take your own pulse and it’s a chance to dream, to be wild, and to trust in the magic of listmaking (once it’s written down, you never know how it’s going to happen). Some people call these “magic goals” and they are much more powerful written in your own handwriting.

It’s also important to think about the big picture of why you want to do something and what your overall objective is, What is the ideal outcome? This is an idea I borrow from David Allen’s Getting Things Done. Once you are more intentional about your life and what you want to get out of the things you are doing, they will automatically be more rewarding. Or you will re-evaluate your priorities and spend your time doing other things. When you think about your ideal outcome for each project, you will become more conscious about your life and how you are spending your time.

Hey listmakers–and aspiring listmakers! I’m creating my own magical e-course/community experience for 2013 and a big theme will tapping into the power of listmaking in your own life for getting to know yourself and what you want in life. To stay in the loop and find out more, please sign up here.

1 Comment

  1. Tina Salas

    It is so true about lists. I have notebooks filled. It is surprising how many times I reference them. It triggers off days and events in my life. I go as far as filing then with dates on the front of the notebook and file with my years tax box. Lol


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Hi! I’m Sasha

Executive and Life Coach on a mission to help women connect with their bodies to pursue their truest desires in the bedroom and the world.

Author of Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics (HarperCollins) + To-Do List: From Buying Milk to Finding a Soul Mate, What Our Lists Reveal About Us (Simon & Schuster).

At work on a memoir called Wet, about adventures in healing through sensuality.

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