6 Lists You Should Be Keeping

Lists can be extremely useful when you get into the routine of creating them because their naturally short format allows you to easily digest and record information. Getting into the habit of creating lists has helped me care more about my work whilst making my work process much easier. Below are 6 essential lists you should be keeping.

1. Ideas

Always keep a running list of ideas. Although you can keep it analog in a notebook I actually suggest keeping it on your phone or on a computer. I prefer using a phone because this is the rare case in which the benefits of physical writing will likely work against you. When we actually write things down not only is our mind more engaged due to the motions we are going through, but we’re also forced to think more about what we are actually writing. Therefore when we are physically writing down our ideas it’s common for us to second guess ourselves. By using your phone you’re able to quickly jot down ideas without putting much thought in, so you’re less likely to hold back. Every idea deserves to be written down no matter how silly it is because it may help inspire another idea when you look back at it. I also discourage using a notebook because when you’re constantly writing down ideas you will eventually run out of room and then you’re responsible for holding onto each notebook that you fill. In my phone I’ve created an arsenal of ideas that I can always look back at. In order to build your own arsenal remember: write down every idea. I have ideas written down for furniture design, game shows, clever names, movies, and other random things. A running list of ideas always keeps you thinking, and will always provide you with something you can either work on or explore more. The more ideas you have, the more likely you will come up with greater ideas.

“Quality is a probabilistic function of quantity.” — Dean Simonton

2. Things I Can Be Working On

Wasting time is so easy and deceptively enjoyable. Browsing dribbble or watching a few videos seems harmless but wasted time such as that isn’t typically minimal. I’ve identified that I truly enjoy creating my own work, being productive, and learning so to ensure I’m actually enjoying what I’m doing instead of the misguided enjoyment of scrolling through dribbble I’ve created a list of things I can be working on. Having this list shows me that I’ve always got something I can be doing and so I’m always progressing forward. Work is broken down into extremely small tasks and I can slowly chip away at projects compared to having to bunker down for a few days in order to see them through to completion. Also, this list will have you thinking more long term. It poses the question, “What am I going to have to get done down the road? What deadlines do I have set?” If you find yourself not knowing what to work on then this list will help you know what’s next and how you can be working towards whatever follows. For those who typically have a tight schedule, this works to ensure you’re on task and keeps your priorities straight.

3. Things To Do

Although a to do list sounds similar to the “Things I Can Be Working On” list it varies in the sense that it is short term one day tasks. To Do lists are typically overlooked, and because of that they are never given the credit they deserve. They can in fact be extremely beneficial and effective when done correctly, but most people tend to give up on to do lists because of negative experiences they have with them. The point of having this list is to help determine what you should be working on throughout the day with the expectation of getting it all done. To do lists lose their purpose when you overload them with tasks, and when you can’t complete them all you’re left beating yourself up. So how do you create an honest and practical to do list? Start by making tomorrow’s to do list. When you make your to do list in the morning you’re overly optimistic in what you can actually get done, and it doesn’t account for any of your unproductive tendencies. Always create your to do list the day before, but be sure to do it between the middle and the end of your day. By creating tomorrow’s to do list as the end of your day approaches you are able to reflect on the amount of work you were able to get done today so that you can be more realistic with your expectations for tomorrow. Additionally, start simple. Make sure that you will be able to get all these tasks done when you first start making your to do lists. It’s easiest to give something up when it’s fresh, start simple so that your chain of completing your to do lists becomes routine; as you go on you’ll naturally be able to schedule in more work for yourself. Lastly, make this list tangible, and write it down everyday. I recommend keeping it in a notebook that way you are able to record everything your are doing and it’ll all be filed together. In contrast to the ideas list, I recommend having a physical to do list because it’s surprisingly satisfying to cross out work as you complete it. Plus, I’ve tried digital to do lists and have never had any success with them, and I always hear the same from others.

4. 3 Things That Worked

The idea of tracking 3 things that worked each day came from a talk I attended by Stefan Sagmeister. Stefan has been very interested in happiness, in regards to what exactly it is along with how to achieve it. In his talk Stefan stated how beneficial it was to write down 3 things that worked each day. When you start to document the positive aspects of your day especially the things that worked you’re forced to first reflect on your day, and then you are able to determine what you should continue doing. We do a lot of things right every day, but rarely do we recognize them. Most of the time we move through each day without taking a moment to look back on what we did, this seamless transition means that we are only able to remember to significant parts of our days. Those significant moments are typically negative because they tend to disrupt our day while positive moments tend to be very natural and help to make things easier and/or smoother. Without taking the time to look back all we are remembering are the bad things. At the end of everyday start writing down 3 things that worked — you’re awesome and you should recognize it.

5. Things I Want To Do

I first want to create the distinction that this is not a static list, but rather it’s an ever evolving list that you should constantly be reevaluating. Secondly, I will admit that this is likely the toughest list to initially come up with and maintain. A list of things you want to do can and should be approached in two different ways.The first being, long term – what kind of work you want to be doing in the future. The second being, short term- what projects you want to start or be involved in within the next 6 months. In regards to the long term minded list you should begin by writing down what you are interested in doing. This is your opportunity to write down your dreams and aspirations so you can start working towards them. When you are able to envision what kind of work you want to be hired to do in the future you can begin to work towards attracting those types of clients. I have always loved illustrating and have always wanted to get hired to do it, but when I looked at the type of work I was sharing I realized that I wasn’t showing any illustration work. This is where the short term list comes in. If I’m able to recognize that down the road I want to be producing illustration work then I must start figuring out a plan that allows me to create that kind of work. By creating a list of things I want to do within the next 6 months I can begin planning projects that’ll allow me to create illustration work to help me work towards my long term goal. Knowing what kind of work you want to be doing in the future gives you something to shoot for; knowing what you want to be doing in the coming weeks helps you actually get there.

6. Values

Originally, this blog post was titled 5 lists you should be keeping, but last minute I decided to include a list of your values. Admittedly, I don’t have a list of my values. I wanted to include this as a part of this post after my brother and I recently had a conversation about how important we think this can be. If I were to ask you right now would you be able to relay all of your business values to me? Sure you could probably name a few, but it’s likely that you would need some time to actually think about it. When you are communicating and working with a client the same thing happens, you know some of your values, but you can’t remember them all because you’ve never written them down or consciously read over them. If you don’t have your values documented then you are more inclined to compromise them. I view writing down your values as recognizing your worth; you can’t expect a client to understand your worth if you don’t first acknowledge it yourself because until you do so you can’t accurately project your values. By next Thursday I will have created a list of my values, and I challenge you to do the same.