The simple, yet effective magic of making lists

What are you doing today? How about this week? Do you have a set of goals for the days ahead, or are you simply wading through the waters of life while checking things off a non-existent list of tasks you claim to maintain in your head? Are you sure of where you’re going? Do you know what needs to be done?

For the vast majority of my adult life I was lost in nearly every sense of the word. I did not know where I wanted to be professionally, and my aimless pursuit of recognition from the industry lead me to strain relationships with those who cared about me most. If I tried to make up for it I inevitably let things slip on the professional side, which in turn caused the whole cycle to repeat. “There’s never enough time,” I would proclaim. “I’m too busy for _______.”

But that wasn’t the truth, or at least not the entirety of it. The reality of the situation was that I had poor time management skills, aided in part by a complete lack of planning, and as a result I was placing time and energy in places other than where it was needed most. In terms of growth and progress I was essentially walking through life blindfolded with little more than the hope of doing well to keep me afloat. I never knew for sure where I was or wasn’t going because I didn’t have a plan. I simply did, and when I finished one thing I moved to another and another until I fell asleep. When I awoke the next day the cycle would continue as it had every day prior for as long as I could remember.

The funny thing about trying to make your way in this world is that we as humans often ignore obvious tips and tricks because we desire to blaze our own path. This is a mistake as old as time itself, since the first young people tried to escape the shadow of their ancestors. The thing most up and comers fail to realize is that those who succeeded before did so for good reason. Their success was no more a fluke than your own, and there is always something to learn from the paths they traveled. You don’t have to duplicate someone’s behavior in order to learn from their experiences, but you do need to recognize how developing certain skill sets will help you get ahead.

This brings us to lists. Say what you will about Buzzfeed and their overuse of list-driven articles to bring traffic, but you know what? It works. People like lists, and not just for entertainment purposes. Lists make life manageable in a very literal sense. Lists make it easy to organize daily, weekly, monthly, and lifelong goals. Lists also make it possible to plan a day, or two better understand where there are needs going unmet. Lists can help you do just about anything as long as they’re specific, but for some reason many — including myself — feel that are not needed. I don’t know why, even though I subscribed to this way of thinking myself, but I can tell you I have changed my stance.

Every week I make at least 8 lists. The first is week-long overview of goals and projects. These are big idea items, like finishing a new tutorial for Haulix or writing another thousand words for that novel I hope to one day finish. The next seven are lists created before each work day begins. Somewhere between seven and nine every morning I outline my goals for the day. In these lists I am as specific as possible, setting detailed goals and ranking them based on urgency. Under these items I add 2-3 more ambitious goals, just in case time allows for it.

You can do the same, and I guarantee if you stick to the goals you set each day and week you will see results. Any time you find yourself drifting into that lazy river of relaxation you can turn to your list and recognize whether or not that time off has been earned. Furthermore, you will find in time that you are able to accomplish more and more. As you become accustomed to working with lists you will learn to better manage your time, and with that understanding you can better plot each day. Better days lead to better weeks, and before you know it you’ll be making a list of new goals because the ones you set originally were already met.

One last thing: Be patient with yourself. Establishing new behaviors/routines is no easy feat. You have been living life without list making for as long as you’ve been on this planet, so don’t be surprised if you struggle with making lists daily when first starting out. Take things one day at a time and don’t be upset if you fall short from time to time. What matters most is that you continue trying each and every day.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.