i’m making a list, and checking it twice

List Making - Kinfolk 1I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a bit of a nutter. I strongly feel that most creative people are, if not every individual in general. There are so many disorders in existence, that there’s a good chance every person would have at least one of them. For example, these are a few of the issues that I feel I have traces of:

(and because I am afraid of the number 4) Lack of self-esteem

List Making - Kinfolk 3-1Yet, these are all self-diagnosed and quite manageable, for the most part. One of my biggest issues is that I cannot have free time, even if it’s for an hour. I have to constantly be doing something, otherwise I begin to dwell on things and soon fall into a depressive state. This is not because I am unhappy with my life, but rather, because I feel as if I should be doing more. Maybe that is why I had five jobs at the beginning of the year. 

In order to keep the events of my day straight, I keep a detailed list in my phone. These lists are down to the hour, and usually stretch into the next week. Every minute is accounted for, and the only time that I’m allowed to rest is when I’m sleeping, or in bed watching Netflix with my husband. I touched on this incessant planning a bit last year when I blogged about scheduling posts. I mentioned that I plan well in advance, and asked you guys if you do the same. Your answers surprised me, and I loved learning about your varying schedules. Now that I am attempting to once again publish posts five days a week, I have each weekday accounted for, up until the end of July. This of course will change a bit, but for the most part, I know what I will be writing about up to the end of next month.

Geoffrey and I spent Saturday running errands in town with our dogs. Every time we did a task, I would look at my phone to consult my list for the day. He said to me, “you and your damn lists.” I can’t help it. If I don’t write down what I’ll be doing that day, or next week, I feel lost and anxious. However, seeing it in front of me brings a huge relief, and makes me more productive as opposed to just ambling through my day. 

I was beginning to think that this was a serious issue, until I came across an article in the March 2015 edition of Kinfolk magazine. This particular article put my mind at ease, and taught me more about list-making than I knew before. I swear that this publication has brought nothing but good into my life. Here it is.



List Making - Kinfolk 4The Psychology of List Making

Why do we feel the need to make a list for every occasion, from grocery items to plans for world domination?

Lists keep our daily affairs in order, but they can also be distilleries of our deeper intentions. Regardless of their contents, they say a lot more about us than simply what we need to get done: They portray our expectations, self-criticisms and anxieties. In pursuit of moral perfection, Benjamin Franklin once drafted a list of what he deemed the necessary virtues in life. But not all innovative people have been as lofty as Ben when it comes to list making: The Finnish architect Eero Saarinen’s to-do list included changing the lightbulb; elsewhere he listed the characteristics of his wife that he found most favorable. Eccentric and banal lists alike testify to our desire to cultivate order out of the messy shards of the everyday, and there is much to be gained from transmuting our goals into brief notes on a piece of paper.

Psychologists have found that we’re hard-wired to function better when we have a plan. In 1927, Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik found that people recall unfinished tasks more accurately than finished ones. Psychologists R.F. Baumeister and E.J. Masicampo have since updated the so-called Zeigarnik effect when they discovered that people also perform better at one task once they’ve created a concrete plan for completing their other uncompleted tasks. Using this logic, it means you’ll more keenly tackle writing your staff newsletter if you’ve already created a plan to categorize last week’s emails afterward. By allotting yourself time to complete each task on your list, you’ll engage more presently with what’s at hand because you know the next activity will be given its own time in due course.

But sometimes even the most articulate and carefully crafted to-do lists can’t save us from procrastination or from the temptation to whip up a batch of scones instead of paying our gas bill. On some days, you just want to accept defeat from your overwhelming list of unaccomplished chores, responsibilities and life goals.

Fortunately, you can dispel anxiety over the unfinished entries of today’s list by condensing your unfinished list for tomorrow. To-do lists often work best when they value quality over quantity – Henry David Thoreau advised us to keep our accounts on our thumbnail, the shorter the better. The visceral act of checking a box can provide an addictive sense of satisfaction, but the best to-do lists should only contain essential tasks rather than fodder that makes us feel accomplished and ultimately distracted from our goals.

For everything else, we can forgive ourselves for allowing the dynamism of life to take us off course. Besides, if accomplishing everything requires us to sacrifice a meaningful engagement with our activities, perhaps it would be better to drop what we’re doing and make those scones after all.

by Sammi Massey

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  1. I love lists and have tons of them – daily lists, general planning for the week, resolution lists, lists of ideas/projects etc. etc. I absolutely can’t do without them, but at times, when I can’t keep up, they make me depressed. They start feeling like a huge burden. So, I guess, balance is the key.


  2. G

     /  06/24/2015

    I used to get annoyed with making lists. They just seemed to take forever and then I’d be attached at the hip with this little scrap of paper. But now I can see the appeal. Lists help immensely. Thanks to you :)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I like lists when I can’t afford to rely on my faulty middle-aged memory :-)

    And you’re right about creatives being nutters — guilty as charged :-)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love lists :) … and cute notepaper to write them on, and coloured pens to write with!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. You and my wife share some of these items, I understand you. :)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Really? Well good! Perhaps that’s why you follow my blog? ☺️

      Thank you for the comment!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Just being Canadian can get me to follow blogs – I lived in Ontario in the 1980’s and loved it. I am from Michigan but love all things Canada!


  6. I am a list maker as well, who loves a good schedule, but I don’t feel bad about it mostly because for me I absolutely need it, thanks to my horrible memory. It does drive my husband crazy that every 15-30min I look at my phone to make sure I’m still on schedule..but I would be lost without a schedule(literally!)

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Ah Emory we have so many common traits. I too am a perfectionist, busy, list maker who is mostly incapable of relaxing. Awesome post :)

    Liked by 1 person

  • Hello! My name is Emory. I am a wife, mother of four (three on earth in heaven). This is our life on the Canadian prairies.
    email: helloscarlettblog@outlook.com

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