Grandma Z made lists. I found lists in her cupboards, lists on her refrigerator, lists in her bible, and lists in her picnic baskets. She once told me she loved writing things down because she was so forgetful. Making the lists helped her stay organized.
When it comes to lists, I am a lot like my grandmother.
I make lists at work of all the things I need to do for the day.
My husband and I make a list each time one of us goes to the grocery store and attach our coupons to save money.
I make lists before I pack to keep my brain from wandering when I am gathering things while the kids run around in circles, the dog barks, the bird hollers and the cats do their best to trip me.
And I make lists for my writing.
Recently, though, I discovered a magic way to use my lists to get the work done without pushing myself to do the things on it.
I know this sounds unbelievable but hear me out.
Last year, I took a Massive Online Open Course called Learning How to Learn with Professor Barbara Oakley from Oakland University. I took it to help my beleaguered nursing students handle their intense course load but, as always with teaching, I ended up learning something from the experience.
And the best thing I learned was how to make lists that get done on their own.
Always before, I made my lists first thing in the morning. I did this partly to focus myself before I started work, but (here’s the truth) I also made the lists to avoid doing the work.
This is because getting up at 4:30 in the morning and jumping into writing is super hard — or at least it used to be.
Professor Oakley and the neurologist Terrance Sejnowskii recommended making my list the night before. They suggested that my subconscious brain might even start working on the list while I slept to get me moving on it the next day.
I thought this might be hooey but decided it couldn’t hurt to try it.
To my amazement, it worked.
Each night I sit down with my planner and make a list for the next day. I then do other woo woo things with my list like put my hand over it and say a small prayer that the work might be done through me and that I might know grace and peace while I do it. (I made that part up myself. The professors said nothing about talking to my list.)
I always mix up my list so it will not be drudgery. (The professors suggested this one.) I add things like walks, rest, and play. If I am having an especially hard time at work or with some other situation I will add ‘with joy’ to what I want to do.
‘Joy in meetings’ was on my list last week, for example. I distinctly remember having some joy in those meetings, too.
If I have a thorny writing problem, I’ll get specific in my list about what I want to fix.
Most of the time, I don’t even need to look at my list in the morning. I know what’s on it and dive right into it after feeding the herd and fixing my tea.
And then at night I look at my list from the day and check off what I’ve done before making the list for the next day. I never punish myself for what didn’t get done. Instead, I draw parentheses around the unfinished things and consider if I want to add them to the next day or not.
I always take a moment to feel good about the things that did get done. I believe the list likes this and is more likely to help me the next day if I don’t beat it up.
Often I discover I have done things I didn’t even remember were on my list to do.
It’s like the list finishes itself.
Or like my subconscious actually does work on how I will get those things done while I sleep.
Or like the list is a magic wand I wave at night towards the next day.
I don’t know for sure. But I know it works.
Give it a try if you want to see for yourself.
And then let me know how it goes. I would love to hear.
May you make friends with fairy godmother lists-
A recycled bit on the wonder series:
I love the way writing and other art forms open my eyes to the surprises around me in my everyday life. Many of these wonders will also be in my Instagram account since I discovered the joy of that program during an advent photo project.
I collect these surprises like little rocks in a kid’s pocket. I may use them in a story. I may not. Either way, life gets a little brighter when I take the time to notice.