Living by the lists

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I love a good list. I like jotting it down. I like looking it over each day. And I absolutely love marking through completed tasks with an assertive, bold marker scribble – as if my productivity has literally obliterated it.

When a list fills up with scribbles, I start a fresh one and transfer over any items still waiting to be done. When I mess up and forget to do something, there’s always one reason why – it never made it onto the list.

Every now and then, I tell myself I don’t need to write something down because “I’ll remember.” (Yeah, right.) Then reality rears its multiple graying heads: My brain is 49 years old. I have three kids, three dogs, two part-time jobs, two parents, one husband, one cat, and so many loads of laundry on any given day. One measly thought drifting around a cluttered brain doesn’t stand a chance against all that. Hence, the list.Depositphotos_94429390_S

It’s a practical tool for getting work done but it can also be aspirational – reminding us of what we’d love to do someday. Most importantly, the list validates the million little things we do but don’t give ourselves credit for. That’s why it’s important to put seemingly minor tasks on the list because even a line item as mundane as “unload the dishwasher” counts as useful progress.

If you’re a lover of lists like me, here’s a list of three lists to make for yourself. (Don’t worry. These lists are work-free.)

The Hard Things List: I learned about this list from author and speaker Jon Acuff, fellow lover of lists. Write down a list of hard things you’ve already done in your life. It might include things like “Raised 3 kids,” “Got promoted,” “Took good care of an old dog with medical problems,” “Survived the renovation of our house,” “Made peace with someone who really ticked me off,” “Grieved a deep loss,” or “Paid off a debt.”

Keep the “Hard Things List” somewhere where you can easily grab it when you doubt yourself or worry that you’re not up to a challenge. It’s especially helpful during dark moments when you think you’re just not enough. Read the list again and know that you are already a doer of hard things. You have a track record, and you can do it again.

The Thanksgiving List: November is the perfect time for a Thanksgiving list, which should be filled with all the things that are currently going well in life – things like “The puppy is finally housetrained!” or “We got new carpet!” or “My kid is on track to graduate!”

For this list, I also include things that remind me it’s good to be alive in the world. Something like this: “That little tree by the driveway with leaves that turn a bright lemony yellow,” or “The way it feels to slide into bed on clean sheets.” During those moments when it feels like everything sucks, pull out the Thanksgiving List and realize that no, it really doesn’t.

The Christmas List: No one appreciates a good list quite like Santa. When you make this final list, either share it with the Santa in your life or keep it for yourself. Sometimes it’s good to have a list of things to work toward and reward yourself with throughout the New Year, especially after you’ve done yet another Hard Thing.

What should go on the list? See if you can write down one thing (or experience) for each of these categories: Something beautiful. Something useful. Something you want for no good reason other than it seems fun. Something fancier than you’d normally buy for yourself. These are also good categories to use when you’re trying to think of gift ideas for people you love.

So there it is – the list of lists from one list lover to another. From my family to yours, may your holiday be filled with so much love and too many blessings to list.

 Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at Her book is available on Amazon.
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