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    The Liberating List

    Tuesday, May 03, 2011

    A Kid's Happy ListMany years ago, after a job change, I received the gift of a Day Runner from a friend who wanted to make sure I kept track of appointments. Although the calendar part was certainly handy (and the ruler, and the pencil bag where I kept dice for game design), the most liberating discovery was the stress relief of keeping lists. Especially a to-do list. No more nagging feeling that I might be forgetting something. The only two things to remember were 1.) write things down and 2.) check the list.

    As the years passed, I moved from a Day Runner to a PDA (currently an iPod Touch, with an old ThinkOutside Stowaway Bluetooth keyboard for longer entries), and have continued to polish my list use. One advantage of an electronic list is being able to add, delete, and rearrange entries as needed. One disadvantage is that the list never gets completed, crossed out, and trashed the way a page of paper does. An electronic list just keeps growing and morphing. For anyone with multiple work, family, and social commitments, that can be disheartening.

    Happily, about two weeks ago I stumbled across this year-old post on BNET, "The Best To-Do List You'll Ever Make." No, I haven't returned to crumpling a piece of paper at day's end. Instead, I've adapted the "three things" strategy to the unending electronic list. Which is to say, I move the three most critical items to the top of the electronic list, then put a blank line between them and the rest of it. The top three are for today, the rest for later.

    Voila, the best of both worlds.

    As each "today" item is completed, I delete it. Watching that group disappear gives virtually (pun intended) the same satisfaction as crossing them out on a sheet of paper, wadding it up, and throwing it away. What's more, I still have only one file to be concerned with, rather than a sheet for today and a sheet of everything upcoming.

    How about you? Have you discovered the tension relief of keeping a list? If so, what techniques make it work best? We'd love to hear them. Just click the comments link below.

    Oh, and though my PDA doesn't have a pencil bag, it does have a dice app I use for game design.

    —Lester Smith

    Photo by Carissa Rogers