Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Just Listed

I make lists -- shopping lists, lifetime “I wanna do this” lists, books to read, blogs to write, music to buy, people to email, photos to have printed, clothes to pack for vacation, pros and cons of a decision in process, the list goes on. Every week at work I update the list of projects and the intermediate steps to completion. Even if the list is crazy long, it helps to lay it out on paper. There is comfort in knowing it’s written down and things won’t be overlooked. Some tasks appear regularly, just under different client names:  write brochure / ad / website copy; proofread brochure / ad / website copy; follow-up on budget estimate; draft meeting agenda; type conference notes; set production timeline. That kind of stuff.

Sometimes, a project is so big it warrants its own spreadsheet list. One of my first projects at my current job was to manage the logistics for a 100th anniversary event for a client. Just the idea of it was panic-inducing, but I started listing. We ended up with a list of roughly 150 items tracking who was responsible for things like sending invitations, receiving RSVPs, coordinating shuttle buses, placing parking signs, placing and monitoring trash barrels, collecting event tickets, etc. The act of getting all the details listed in one place was a relief. The satisfaction came when responsibilities were assigned and we had covered as many variables as we could come up with.

It is not uncommon to reach into a coat pocket and pull out a list -- dog food - potting soil -- half and half; or maybe cardigans - Vertigo Fables #17 - watch battery; or wedding card, facial wipes, nail polish remover. I’ve picked up papers in parking lots that held someone's shopping list -- and wondered about the person who dropped it. Wandering through the store, I’ll be looking at people and wondering if they are “almonds, pears, tin foil, bleach.” Nope, the writing doesn't look right for him. Maybe it's her ...

Often, my lists are drafted and then accidentally left behind on the coffee table, kitchen counter or in the car. I’ll be in the store, searching a pocket or my purse for the list I wrote barely 20 minutes earlier before I left the house. That can be frustrating, but the act of having written the list is often enough and the items can be procured or the tasks completed without actually having the slip of paper in hand. But then I don't get to tear the little notches in the side of the paper like my grandmother did as the item hit the cart.

As helpful as making a list can be, the best part really is crossing things off the list. It’s a tangible map of accomplishments. Mow lawn (done!). Laundry (done!) Call client A (done!).

It’s frustrating to hit Wednesday of a workweek and not have been able to cross anything off the blue ink list with the red pen designated for editing and list crossing. That’s when I have to pause, take a breath, and come up with something accomplished, no matter how trivial, so it can be added it to the list and then crossed off purely for the psychological push to keep going.

We’re now in the season for the BIG lists -- the Christmas List for gifts and the New Year’s list for goals. The practical Christmas list tracks gifts bought and those still to be shopped for and possibly shipped to family. The New Year’s list is grander, harder to focus on, and once drafted, is often tucked into a journal. Usually it reads more like a wish list -- big goals like join a gym,  lose 5 pounds, create a website, publish a book, sell the house, find a job, pay off the credit card, travel. When I slip into adolescent angst and start feeling like I haven’t done anything, it’s helpful to review an old New Year’s list and witness some major accomplishments.  Leave bad relationship (check!). Buy a house (check!). Pay off the car (check!).

The old saying that “the pen is mightier than the sword” may not have been written about lists, but it holds true, especially when my empowering little list is drafted in gel pen in neat penmanship.

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