The Utility of Making Lists

“A key productivity hack that really works wonders in our fast-paced, modern era, which involves both discipline and consistency is to make a list. It is also an excellent habit to build upon and one that only requires your laptop and a ‘notes’ application or just a simple pen and piece of paper.”

A key productivity hack that really works wonders in our fast-paced, modern era, which involves both discipline and consistency is to make a list. It is also an excellent habit to build upon and one that only requires your laptop and a ‘notes’ application or just a simple pen and piece of paper. Lists have a reputation of being tedious and time-consuming, but what is actually more time-consuming is spending minutes or even hours trying to remind yourself what tasks or items you actually have to do.

List making is a good habit to build upon for a number of reasons. You hold yourself accountable and there is no shirking away from what you have set for yourself. The biggest misconception when it comes to lists is that they are all the same and focused on a to-do list. You can make lists for other reasons ranging from your progress at the gym with different weights you’ve lifted and what you hope to accomplish next to your future goals in life and what you hope to do in your ‘bucket list.’ Lists not only involve things you have to do whether its grocery shopping, what bills you have to pay, or what errands you have to run but also what career / business goals you have, what your exercise regimen looks like or where you hope to travel to in terms of next destinations.

Making lists is part of exercising that daily discipline that you need to have in order to put yourself on a path to success. It’s easier to accomplish your goals or your tasks when you remember what they are. You may have an amazing memory and feel you don’t need to have any lists at all but having that reminder especially if you have a due date for a pending school assignment or a work task can really help you especially if your memory fails you, which is always possible.

The impact of technology in our lives has made our attention spans that much more limited or distracted so I believe that the utility of lists has increased in response. There are many more things on our plate that we have to pay attention to that we may not have time to remember them all. Lists can help us organize these tasks from most urgent to least urgent and give us some peace of mind since you would likely have these lists stored in a place such as in an application on a computer or in a folder if you’re more traditional with pen and paper.

Not only do lists help to organize our lives, our goals, and our tasks, but lists also hold us accountable just by the fact that they make clear what you have done or what you have not done. There is no arguing with a list because you have either done it or not done it. You can indicate in a list your progress towards the goal or the task but it’s better to simplify it to be blunt to ask of you whether the item is completed or not. If it isn’t done yet, you can go back to it to see how much you have left to do, whether it’s been started yet, or how much you have left to finish. That kind of blunt accountability, which can be lacking in our society, is going to be staring you right in the face, so there is really no hiding from a list because it does not sugarcoat anything or try to come up with an excuse.

I also would like to point out that making too many lists can hinder you from achieving all you would like to get done each day, each week, or beyond. You should be careful not to make too many lists or have too many notes where you start to forget what actually is most vital to get done. I would recommend instead to make one list only for a specific part of your life such as one for exercise, one for work, one for business, one for errands, and perhaps one for future goals. That’s five lists right there on a specific subject so not to become too cluttered or difficult to implement. Lists can help you out a lot up to a point but can become burdensome when you have a dozen lists for ten different parts of your life.

In any list you make, focus on a main goal you wish to achieve for the day and then start to branch out to include weekly tasks and then long-term goals that may take months. Organizing an individual list around immediate, medium-term, and long-term tasks is an effective way to stay on top of each part of your life that will need attention. Having five lists, for example, can be helpful too where you might start the day looking at your exercise task(s) to complete, then move on to work/school, then see about errands, and then see what future goals you are working towards that you can start on. Organizing lists is about as important as making lists to begin with and it’s very important not to make too many lists where you feel like you can’t keep track of them all or have too long of a list where it distracts from your other lists that you’re working on.

You may be thinking to yourself right now, why do you care about making lists so much and why have lists at all? Having list(s) is about building structure in one’s life. You can create good habits from following your lists and you can organize your life in a meaningful and productive way. Also, you alone can hold yourself accountable with lists as it’s only you who knows about the list and is responsible for completing the goals and the tasks that you set up for yourself. No one else is going to hold your hand so it’s up to you alone to be reliable, responsible, and solely in charge of ultimately crossing those important items off your list(s) to help make your life a better, happier, and healthier one.

The Why of Doing Mundane Tasks

“When the famous American inventor and politician, Benjamin Franklin, indicated that the two certainties in life were ‘death and taxes’, I think he forgot to mention an overlooked third one that we all experience at one point or another: mundane tasks.”

How much of our lives are made up of dull and repetitive tasks that we would rather not do? How often during the day, the week, the month, or the year are made of things that we have to do out of lack of choice but also an obligation? Whether it is an obligation based on our work, our homes, our hobbies, or our businesses; mundane tasks are simply part of life’s overall equation. When the famous American inventor and politician, Benjamin Franklin, indicated that the two certainties in life were ‘death and taxes’, I think he forgot to mention an overlooked third one that we all experience at one point or another: mundane tasks.

Whether it is going to pick up the newspaper or taking the mail in or dropping off something at the post office, these little errands or tasks are unavoidable and are not the most stimulating to go through. Other tasks like going to the supermarket, cleaning out a pool or cleaning your pool, doing the laundry, washing the dishes are all repetitive but if you notice how mundane they are, you will likely have a worse time doing them all and forget how important they are.

While we may think that we lack control over these dull tasks, the truth is we often do control our attitude to these mundane tasks and how we go about doing them. We control if we do them at all, how we do them, and how fast it will take us to do them. We can make them fun or enjoyable with the help of some music or even a game to see if you or a friend or a family member can do them faster than you. If you think about these tasks, we often feel better about ourselves for having done them afterwards and feel like our days were more accomplished because we were able to complete these tasks as a habit of ours rather than going out of the way to do them like an abnormal chore.

Tasks are meant to be completed but in many of these cases, without our actions, perhaps our lives will be more disorderly and disorganized without finishing these small tasks first. How can we accomplish great tasks in our day-to-day if we can’t get the little things done first? If we want to tackle issues in our community, our country, or even for the world, should we not start with making our bed first consistently first or being able to cook for ourselves with relative ease?

“If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.” This particular excerpt of a great speech by United States Navy Admiral and Former JSOC Commander William H. McRaven puts the utility of these mundane tasks in our daily lives in perspective. The focus of his commencement speech was about how by accomplishing these tiny tasks, preferably at the beginning of our day, you start to gain more momentum to complete bigger and bigger tasks by the end of that day. Making your bed is just one of those many mundane tasks that we are faced with in our lives and that we usually have control over doing or not doing.

If we choose to not do them, this lack of confidence or a lack of accomplishment can carry over to the bigger and more pressing tasks that we have to handle later on, often in the span of minutes or hours, at work or in our relationships. As a former Navy SEAL, McRaven saw the bed-making procedure as key to the rest of his day. While at first, he thought of the task of being forced to make his bed tedious and maybe beneath him as a future SEAL, it later taught him necessary skills such as compliance, confidence, and reinforced habits.

Our mundane tasks that we have to do our based on our autonomy in that no one else can do them for us. By doing these tasks on a consistent basis, we build upon our good habits instead of bad habits. Perhaps most importantly, we learn that we do in fact have some control over our lives. While the big things in life can challenge and thwart us again and again, we know that we can handle basic tasks that make us feel better and give us the confidence to try and try again at the bigger tasks that are more complex and complicated.

            If we cannot handle the small stuff no matter how tedious it is, we likely will not be able to handle the bigger tasks, which may be even more tedious. The mundane tasks are easy, repetitive, and do not take as much time usually. It goes without saying that if you can start to do them once or twice, you can start to build up that habit muscle and then you will be on your way to doing these tasks on a consistent basis making them easier and less daunting.

In a lot of ways, we overlook the little moments in life which tend to be the most endearing and the most special. It’s important to not do that as well with the little tasks such as making your bed, taking out the trash, or paying your bills. The little things are easy to accomplish when you measure them up against the harder tasks like running a marathon, becoming a millionaire, or having a successful business or career. Once you take care of the little things though, you may be in store for a positive ripple effect that could lead to wins or gains in the harder areas. Even if you have bad days or expectations of your day fall short, at least at the end of the day, you will know that you took care of the small stuff and can be proud of those small victories which keep us going during rough times, especially now in this perilous year of 2020.

Lastly, doing different mundane tasks on different days can help us as well give us that continued sense of accomplishment and meaning that we can often lack on certain days if we don’t have anything to do. Spreading out the mundane parts of life instead of saving them all for a weekend or one day in particular will also ease your stress levels and cause you to feel more evened out as you go through your week. You won’t be stressing out about 5 or 7 mundane tasks you have to do at the end of the week if you do one of them each day to balance it all out.

Nobody likes mundane tasks including myself, but they do serve a purpose in making you a more responsible adult and a better human being. You get better at them the more you do them and which also tends to make them less tedious over time. Unfortunately, we all find out in life that it is not all fun and games and part of life has to be drudgery, but it doesn’t always have to be doom and gloom. Throw on some music or your favorite podcast, use a cup of a coffee or a fruit juice to get you going and make your bed first thing in the morning to get the day started. I promise that with a little self-motivation and self-determination, life will look less daunting and your confidence will start to grow the more mundane tasks you accomplish on a daily and weekly basis.