He’s making a list and he’s checking it twice.
We all know who “he” is without even naming names and we all know just what list he’s making. Are you on his naughty or nice list? Finger’s crossed!
St. Nicholas, who we celebrate the feast day of today, probably also had a list. You could say St. Nick was the OG: original giver. Nicholas was a very rich man who liked to share his riches. He heard about a family that didn’t have enough money to buy food so he snuck onto their roof and threw some gold coins down their chimney that landed in their stocking socks hanging over the fireplace to dry. Kids all over the world heard this story and began the tradition of hanging socks and shoes in front of their fireplaces hoping to get treats from St. Nicholas. Yep, that’s why we hang Christmas stockings on our mantels and why St. Nick if often regarding as the real or first Santa Claus. He even wore a red coat!
I also love the color red and share two other traits with Santa: I love to give gifts and I love to make lists. I have lists everywhere. To do lists. Grocery lists. Gifts for Christmas list. “Ship order” lists. “Books I want to read” list. “Shows I want to watch” list. You name it. I’ve listed it.
This is an especially busy time of the year when lists are made and goals are set. But, it’s also the perfect time of year to set aside those lists for just a moment or two and list what really matters and what you could be doing. Some of the above may be challenging or even forbidden this year in some parts, but you can still send and make peace, donate food, and be the light.
Many a famous and successful person were or are list makers, including Thomas Jefferson, Martha Stewart, Johnny Cash, and Benjamin Franklin. Numbering things and counting lists is also biblical, as Moses learned in Numbers 4:49 and when he received the 10 Commandments, written by the finger of God on two tables of stone. The word “list” itself also has a somewhat famous history as according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word can be traced back to William Shakespeare who penned in Hamlet, “a list of landlesse resolutes.” Bravo!
So what is it about lists that I…and my fellow list maker teammates…love about the habit of writing it down and listing it up? For me, it’s quite simple: it keeps me from worrying or forgetting about things. I don’t need to remember everything at the grocery store cuz I have my handy-dandy grocery list. I won’t forget to plan or prepare something for an upcoming trip cuz I have my trip list. Knowing it’s all written down somewhere allows my mind to ease up and it also prevents stress and anxiety…two things that are rampant this time of year and quite frankly, this entire crazy year.
Lists bring order to chaos and confusion. Uncertainty…which has been anything but masked this year…is reduced and a sense of structure and control is brought to the multiple tasks at hand. If you have lots to get done or lots of information coming at you, write it all down and not only will you organize it, you will have something on which to visually and purposefully focus.
Writing stuff down is indeed an effective productivity tool and studies show that list-makers often perform better than their non-list-making counterparts. Being able to clearly see “what’s next” offers predictability and allows us to develop what psychologists call “schemata,” the mental maps we accumulate from experience and that give us a sense of what to expect. In short, lists help us organize what is otherwise often overwhelming.
Sometimes we… okay ME…focus too much on to do lists though. I do love a sweeping check noting a completed task but I also need to remind myself that life is not entirely about a check or to do list. I need to remind myself of things not to do and put on a list. I work every day on living between list entries and aim to tame my compulsive habit of taking notes and writing everything down. Once a wordsmith always a wordsmith I suppose, but sometimes I go overboard with my bardish attempts.
List making can prove especially beneficial for procrastinators. I am the farthest thing from a procrastinator but I’m married to one. And surprise, surprise: he’s not a list maker! The key here of course is starting the work and not simply just writing it all down. Procrastinators…and others in general…can also focus too much on the big picture and a large project, which can feel daunting and intimidating, which often results in nothing getting done until the last minute. Lists, can help here. The right lists.
Think about it, if you need to pack and move but write down “pack house for move” alongside “dentist appointment” and “anniversary party” on a list, it can feel paralyzing just getting started, right? Instead, make a list of smaller tasks to tackle one at a time, such as “pack closet,” “pack kitchen,” “send change of address cards,” etc. Way more doable!
If you’re one of those who think making a list will stymie your creativity or flexibility, worry no more! Allow on that list…or don’t even list…opportunities to do something fun and don’t think of the list as an end all. It’s a road map not a prison sentence.
If you’re wondering if you’re an obsessive list maker or just a fan of the habit, here are some signs to look for:
You own lots of notebooks and journals
You have favorite pens
You love post-a-notes
You add things you’ve already done to an existing list just to cross them off
You make to do list for others
You simply cannot understand why others don’t make lists!
I can say I’m all of those and I proudly own them all. Yes, the habit can be a bit obsessive but it also makes us who we are as list lovers, which ultimately makes us valuable parents, friends, and staff members.
So now, I’ll cross “write blog on lists” off my to do list, focus back on my Christmas to do list, glance over my Hallmark movies to watch list, flip one on, enjoy the day, and hope I can write it all down and let it all go. How about you? Are you a list maker? I’m list-ening!