I really like lists.
Any of my friends reading this blog post are more than likely rolling their eyes and thinking, ‘I can’t believe she’s chosen to write an entire blog post about them’. Lists are my order in the chaos of life, they give me pace, control and satisfaction. They are essentially how I went from incredibly disorganised individual to relatively organised. I talk about them a lot, because I think people don’t get excited enough about lists.
Lists are simple, but they’re also a fundamental part of pretty much every industry. How does your pilot respond in a state of emergency? Using a list. How is surgery performed in hospitals? Start with a list. It’s kind of genius that writing a number of well-considered steps can literally save lives.
There’s a fantastic book, ‘The Checklist Manifesto’ by Atul Gawande, that focuses on lists used in the medical profession, and how they can introduce efficiency, improve productivity and ensure that patients are safer. Around the world, before a surgical procedure, the exact same checklist is used. The steps are simple: introduce everyone in the room, introduce the patient and the procedure, identify any risks (etc). Sounds monotonous right? However, the introduction of these lists massively reduces infection and risk of mistakes. It’s mind-blowing how much of a difference introducing yourself makes when you’re working on a team; or how speaking about risks can ensure everyone is on the same page. Lovely, lovely lists.
I use lists in three main areas: work, writing, and day-to-day life.
I first started using lists at work (you can’t be an account manager and not have a good list), and found that the structure they offered me gave me a foundation for managing myself and other people. I use my list as a springboard that allows me to be flexible and reactive.
When I’m writing, lists offer me structure. Until recently, I didn’t organise my writing very well, because I was afraid it would stifle my creativity. Now I find that using a list to develop a decent plot structure for a second/third draft can hone and craft my writing. Lists help me to identify what’s missing, and offer an opportunity for finessing and consistency. They’re particularly useful for collaboration, and everyone who works with me knows that at some point they will receive a spreadsheet of tasks.
As someone who has suffered with anxiety, lists are a miracle. I used to struggle to find a way out of anxious cycles. I could successfully identify that I was about to have a panic attack or hit a good ol’ patch of anxiety – but I didn’t know the best way out of it. For me, anxiety is triggered when I feel out of control and overwhelmed by a situation. I found that by detangling my life and organising it into different categories, I was able to regain control. For each category I would write a list focusing on how to make it better – whether through a phone call, or sending an email. If the anxiety is particularly bad, I use lists and timers. It’s as close as I can get to having a life coach.
Now this might all sound like overkill – and perhaps you’re thinking ‘she’s lost it, how could anyone possibly be so passionate about lists?’ – but give one a go. They offer a foundation and a structure that allows us to deviate and to be creative. Your list is your safety net, and will offer you a sense of order in the chaos of the day-to-day – and honestly, we could probably all do with that right now.