Don’t Be Afraid to Love Lists


The poor list. It seems as though it is always equated with “chores” or “tasks” or some other equally shudder-worthy word. Leo from Zen Habits even believes you should “Kill Your To-Do List.”

David from The Minimalist Path recently weighed the pros and cons of Living by the List and it got me to thinking about why I still have a special place in my heart (and on my hard drive) for lists.

Personally, I use, recommend and love lists.

I have lists for nearly every aspect of my life and I couldn’t be happier about that. I tend to be a very unfocused and forgetful person, so I write down nearly every useful idea or actionable step that crosses through my brain.

But as a minimalist, aren’t we supposed to reject lists?

First of all, there is no minimalist rulebook. What works for one person, may not work for another. If you feel constrained or creatively hampered by lists than get rid of them!

I’ve said it before, but to me the main benefit of minimalism is focus. And making lists helps me do that.

Here are the three main ways I use lists.

  1. Brainstorming. Many nights before going to bed, I will write down one subject on the top of a page in my notebook. It may be “Step 1 Minimalist posts” or a fiction book idea or “website redesign.” Then I will make a list of any and all ideas that pop into my brain about whatever heading I wrote down. My goal is to keep my pen writing and fill up at least half a page without censoring myself. Are some of the ideas crap? Sure. But when I’m done I’ve got a list of anywhere from 15-20 items, so all I need is a handful of quality ideas and it is worth the effort.
  2. Project management. I have a lot of big, intimidating goals. But you know what is not intimidating? Completing one small, 15 minute step towards achieving that goal. That is why I use lists to break my projects and goals down into bite-size chunks. I am a huge procrastinator, but I can handle 15 minutes worth of work. I just promise myself I will knock out one small item. And taking care of that one small thing is usually enough motivation to complete the next step. And so on and so on.
  3. Daily household tasks and chores. This is where lists get their bad reputation. The dreaded chores and “honey-do” lists. If I didn’t keep lists for this kind of stuff though, I would never get any of them done. I keep a simply weekly checklist so I don’t forget mundane tasks like watering the plants. Yes it is a bit boring, but it keeps me from having to think about whether or not I remembered to pay the bills or backup my hard drive.

As minimalists, we should treat our lists like our possessions. They should be helping us reach our goals and dreams and not just sitting around to make us feel better or give us a false sense of accomplishment.

What do you think about lists?

Leave a Comment