Living By Lists

I list a lot. And I’m not alone. In the course of many kitchen-table conversations, I’ve discovered that we keep lists for a variety of reasons. People make lists to get organized, to plan the day, to set priorities, to clarify “pros” and “cons” as they make decisions, to explore their feelings, to dispel mental fog, to articulate goals, to identify their deepest hopes and purposes.


What I’ve also discovered about lists is that every time I make one, I learn something. Things come up. Sometimes it seems that the less I plan or try to foresee what might belong on a list, the more I find out. So I just start in: “Things to do before the weekend”; “Possible blog topics”; “People to get back to”; “Nagging anxieties”; “Things I’m grateful for.” Even if the heading seems rather ho-hum (“Things to do”) or borders on cliché (“Things to be grateful for”), the process brings surprises.


If I stay with it long enough to get beyond the obvious (buy the groceries, return the phone call, check e mail, get the oil changed . . .), something not so obvious occurs, and the list shifts from “list” to something more: take a walk by the river with no phone; pick up protein bars to keep in the car for homeless people; write to a grandchild about his science project. And I discover not only what I think I need to do, but what I want to do, what I’ve avoided doing, and what I don’t do because I don’t really want to.

– from “Make a List” by Marilyn McEntyre