the beacon, the compass, the driving force – my list

Are you a list maker? I work best and most happily when I am diligent about creating thoughtful, daily to do lists. I’m moving multiple, large-ish projects forward at the same time and I would be lost without my list. My list gets me to do things I don’t want to do, things I’m uncomfortable with or intimidated by. One of my current projects is putting together my first kit- paper flamingos. I love creating the instructions but there are tons of other details to work out, details I don’t love dealing with – wholesale suppliers, packaging, printing, assembling and distributing. It is on my list and I chip away at it every day.

flamingo kit work

The difference in what I accomplish and how much happier the work is when I take the time to carefully and thoughtfully make my list is so remarkable, such a dramatic shift, I’ve spent some time thinking about why. Why beyond the obvious benefits of being more organized, not forgetting things etc. I came up with some reasons and I saved the one I think is most important for last:

* I tailor my lists to my own personal brand of nuttiness – the anxiety and procrastination, indecision and overwhelm I’m so prone to. Tasks I REALLY don’t want to do get assigned small chunks of time – 15 minutes – 30 minutes etc. So much easier to start and to focus when an end is in sight. A surprising amount can be accomplished in 15 truly focused minutes. I use a timer for these sorts of tasks. I mix those short bursts with longer,  more open ended work. My day feels designed.

* Breaking things down into time chunks changes my relationship with time – I am conscious of, and accountable for my minutes – less time slips mysteriously away – I push harder and squeeze things in.

* It’s effective even when I screw up. If I’ve over-scheduled myself – it’s easy to see and fix going forward.

* I’m less anxious about what I’m not doing at any given moment – I know it’s planned for – has it’s own focused chunk of time instead of floating around in a vague and oppressive cloud of things that need to be done.

And the biggest benefit:

It can be hard to feel momentum and progress on large or longterm projects and goals. Checking things off on a list is undeniable evidence of progress and a chance to congratulate yourself a little and build momentum. I save my lists and when I’m feeling frustrated or stuck I can look back and see how far I’ve come.

Lists are a way of celebrating and recording little successes – and that is terribly important in accomplishing big things.

flamingos in love

P. S. If you would like an email notification when the flamingo kit is ready to go you can sign up here.


  1. Wow – you are a list maker extroidinaire (sp?)!! I make lists but they were usually sort of vague – more like a ‘if you get around to it’ list. It really is sooo much fun to cross each item off as I complete it.

    • So true – it feels so good to cross stuff of – that’s motivating all by itself!

  2. Hi Ann,
    I get that focus and productivity can be positively affected. Where I get snagged is when I try to stay fully conscious of not just the doing but the ‘being’ too – do you know what I mean? There is value in the awareness of the here and now, yes there is that part of me connected to the push, to the drive, and to getting to the outcome/result…but what about the part(s) that need to know that right here, right now, is ok too.. that even this is part of the process… I am trying to work on holding that in mind too. Just sharing. Have a good day.

    • Don’t worry about trying to stay fully conscious. It is like trying to go up or down stairs and paying attention to your feet – don’t do it, you’re bound to slip! Just focus on the job, or let your thoughts drift away while your hands do something routine. That’s just fine, you’re human, you cannot be aware all the time. Bless you!

    • Hi Lisa – I agree – that kind of presence is important in general and creative work. Using a timer helps me with that – the time is designated, I don’t need to think about it – I find I focus deeply.

  3. Nice post Ann! and Happy New Year. Do you put all the kits together yourself? That must be a ton of work and how many are you making for wholesalers? You need help! XXOO Cat

    • Hi Cat – I’m starting small – focused on getting it ready for my shop and then looking to expand into wholesale. I’ll assemble the first kits myself and if it’s a hit look for help. It’s a whole new adventure!

  4. I’m with you on lists – crossing something off gives you a sense of accomplishment doesn’t it? I like the idea of putting time frames on it too, “chunking” things can make them much more manageable. Do you use paper lists or electronic ones? Love those flamingoes – just gorgeous!

    • Hi Vita -thanks so much! I use both and lately mostly a simple checklist on the computer. The “chunking” is really key for me – it gets me past not wanting to start something intimidating and it helps with details that get put off – stuff that doesn’t feel urgent, the little details that pile up. I put little chunks of those things on the list everyday.

      • And P. S. – you’re making a ship!! thinks for sharing – it’s looking great – I look forward to seeing it done.

  5. I felt like I was looking in a mirror when I read your latest newsletter. I am also reevaluating this new year with an eye for getting back to the art work I love and yes, the only way I can do that and meet deadlines and personal goals is through my lists. They actually provide the ease I need as there are other things in my head that need to be there. The lists don’t have a chance there. They need to be cataloged.

    My lists are worshiped as benevolent tree goddesses who grow space and time for my dreams and my accomplishments, microscopic though they may be most days. My worktable is generally a thicket of in-progress, but the lists live in a sacrosanct nest there.

    Ode to the list….thanks for bringing your method out and sharing the wisdom.

    • Hi Allison – thanks for that – beautiful. It feels so much better to get that stuff out of my head – I forget who said it but I love this ” your brain is not a place to keep things”.

      I love your needlepointed tea ball – II’ll be checking back on your curiosities series.

  6. Do you write handwritten lists daily, Ann, or use an online/phone system? And when you allocate specific chunks of time to certain tasks, do you allocate all your hours out (i.e. plan your whole day, with allowances of course) or just ‘at some time today I must do 15mins on x’ or whatever? Just curious 🙂 I love my lists, but I do tend to have things that hang over from day to day, and I find them difficult to manage when there’s more than one (list that is!).
    I have loved this series through the year, sharing your productivity thoughts, questions and strategies. I’ve learnt a lot! It’s fabulous to see how such a creative mind can structure the world around them to make it a little easier to ‘allow’ time and headspace for more creativity!
    All the best for 2016, I can’t wait to see how it pans out for you 🙂

    • Hi Zoe – Thanks so much. Good questions. I give myself as much freedom as possible while making sure things that need to be prioritized are. If something is essential I put it first on the list with a note that it must be completed first – otherwise I can choose the order as I go. And it’s progress not perfection – if something has to get bumped to the next day it’s OK – it doesn’t get forgotten or pushed off into someday.

      I find i do best if I don’t list myself into overwhelm – I only time chunk about 4 hours of the day and the rest of the tasks are more open. I’ve used both hand and computer lists – lately mostly the computer.

  7. Good, light, clean energy comes to us when we complete a Task. Therefore Tasks are to look forward to. The scariest tasks give back the most energy when accomplished.

    • Hi Nancy – absolutely and beautifully put. Each little success builds on the previous. I started the day yesterday with two tiny little tasks – little communications – I so did not want to do. Little things – but man – they felt huge. Felt good to check them off and feel that light, clean energy and move on.

  8. Yes! Lists and a weekly planner – daily can be too much, whereas my week has more rhythm and if something slips a day it’s usually not the end of the world. Bigger projects and shows definitely need breaking down or your head explodes!

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