Make lists!

I like to draw and doodle when I’m thinking and these often turn into lists. As I get older, I seem to do this more and more, which means I’m starting to get pretty good at it. To be clear, I don’t really make lists, at least, not in the way one might imagine. My drawings evolve or devolve (as the case may be) into lists and, even though my lists don’t always look like lists in the traditional sense, they provide some underrated value:

  • First, lists are awesome tools against procrastination. Ideas, in the raw, are often pretty abstract. Making a list of actionable, concrete steps with deadlines helps set me up to make ideas real.
  • I sometimes get mired in the details for new ideas. Making lists helps me be more discerning about what really matters and what essential core requirements are, which is just as good for my own feelings of competency and ability about myself as it is for positive outcomes. Making lists builds confidence.
  • Sometimes the goal of a project is somewhat elusive prior to making a list. Making lists of questions is particularly satisfying in these cases and helps work through any confusion and illuminate purpose.
  • It’s easy for me to set off running in my excitement about a new idea. Making lists helps me focus and determine the best steps, which in turn informs which direction to run in and the plan for each milestone.
  • Large and complex projects can often start off with a complete mental overload of information. Chunking things together or chopping them apart into lists fosters good practice in careful selection and prioritization of components and order which can make the work ahead seem less daunting, making it easier to maintain enthusiasm and momentum.
  • Making lists is meditative in how it centers my thoughts. I’ve made lists about what I see the kids doing well or not doing so well, what others are saying or not saying and even lists of positive things about people I just don’t like or trust. It’s amazing how such a simple exercise can turn a challenging situation into something constructive and even fun.

Taking time to make lists is what I call “in between moments” because it never takes very long and can be done in between higher priority sorts of tasks. An analogy might be like stopping, taking my glasses off (if you wear glasses you understand) and, for the time it takes to clean them, considering my options for the day, clearing my mind completely or thinking of something I’m looking forward to. It’s restorative and is a positive way to break up the day and move forward with greater clarity.

Some lists I’ve made that are my favorites have come about in the most unlikely ways and times, too.

For example, I once found myself in between moments wherein I had to be patient and endure a challenging situation. Next thing I knew, I was making some lists.

I must have been inspired by the challenge of that moment because, without any real intention, I found myself making lists of the kinds of value I bring to teams. I considered a ten year span of my work in technology across industries, disciplines and sectors. I made about a dozen lists in that context.

more doodled listsOut of the batch, my two favorite ones were “known value” and “unknown value”.

“Known value” represented the value I brought to teams that was either anticipated, expected or known. “Unknown value” represented the value I brought to teams that was not anticipated or expected, unknown, meaning things I did behind-the-scenes that no one else was aware of.

There is no way I could have known how that list of unknown value would impact the course of my life and work in the days ahead. It led to some pretty cool choices and decisions that I could not have anticipated or discovered in any other way.

Suffice it to say that making lists is a worthwhile way to spend a few moments. I never know how they will unfold, where they will lead or how they will shape my own future for the better.