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Advice & More November 2019

Santa’s Not the Only One Making a List

By Bonnie McCune

The trick to controlling lists? If you wait long enough, many of those little notes to yourself are out of date and you can throw them away.

I’ve been a list-maker since childhood, and the holidays reinforce that character trait. Lists of gifts to give people, tasks to be accomplished, Christmas card recipients, presents I might like. But I’m beginning to realize that lists don’t necessarily make me more efficient. Rather, they force me to feel guilty and they eat up my time. I’ve never been successful in crossing off every item on a list. In fact, the to-do’s seem to increase faster than the now-dones.

Could be that Santa played a big role in making me a list-maker. Everyone agreed he created lists, and my gifts depended on his accuracy. I understood that lists were the basis of, first, requesting particular items, then, evaluating if I’d been good enough to receive the reward. Hence my awareness that lists are integral to achievement.

When I had a regular full-time job, my lists covered pages. I usually had one sheet per major project with sub- and sub-sub headings. Then, of course, I had the lists for home duties and the ones for other activities and writing. I experimented with keeping lists on paper, on a Palm Pilot when I still had one, on computer. Lists in various colors of ink, on varied hues of paper or sticky notes, depending on type of task or in specially constructed tables and addenda to tables.

Since I stopped working for anyone other than myself, my lists have shrunk. But they still exist. Right now, I have five lists in my bag:

  1. Items to learn about so I can use my electronic equipment better.
  2. Very old things I’m researching about publications, or major household needs like photographing home valuables for insurance purposes.
  3. Immediate needs, like finding a furnace maintenance business.
  4. Kind of in between long- and short-term chores, such as update my website and get the venetian blinds cleaned.
  5. An immediate to-do list with deadlines looming.Oh, what the heck. I’ll admit I have many more lists. Examples:
  • A list of books, movies, and tv shows I want to consume.
  • Menus of dishes that my grandsons may actually choke down.
  • A collection of names of people I’ve met at the gym that I’m afraid I may forget.
  • People I want to have coffee or lunch with, in order to get to know them better.
  • Websites with links to research I may need for writing background.
  • Important numbers, names and passwords of financial matters.

Santa never struggled with most of these, the lucky guy.

But then there are the immediate, don’t-forget-these-under-any-circumstances, such as birthday cards. These appear in my pocket calendar. And lists for special
projects — marketing my fiction and organizing a volunteer effort.

I think list-making helps me feel I’m creating order out of chaos. If an item or task appears on a list, I don’t worry about forgetting it, and I can tell myself I’ll get to it eventually. Which I don’t necessarily. Hence, the guilt. There’s little enough leisure time, especially at the holidays.

No reason to feel guilty if I apply one condition. The trick to controlling lists? If You wait long enough, many of those little notes to yourself are Out of date and you can throw them away.

An example. Over months, I tracked down a writer whose work I admire, intending to send her a message. However, she’s quite elderly. If I wait long enough, she’ll pass away, and I won’t need to get in touch with her! Another example — transplanting herbs at the end of summer. I waited until the first freeze, which destroyed the herbs, and I now can drop that item!

Try applying this technique to your own lists and see if it helps you control them. You may turn out to be as organized as Santa.


(Bonnie McCune is a Colorado writer and has published several novels as well as other work. Reach her at

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