An Act of Creativity: Make a List


Let’s approach the new year with some encouragement to organization.

Do you ever feel like this? There’s so much to do that I don’t know where to start. I think of everything I’m responsible for and everything I’d like to accomplish, and I panic—and sometimes I cope by doing nothing at all.

Time to make a list. When life gets cluttered, it can be a good thing to get a huge sketchpad and just list everything you can think of that needs your attention in some way. You don’t write anything in order of importance or difficulty; you just get it down so you can look at it. Then you move to another sheet of paper and start sorting the mess on the first sheet and throwing the items in some loose order onto the second. You categorize however you want. Maybe one list is “urgent,” another one is “fun,” another is “people I need to spend time with.” The beauty of lists is that you can work with them so they serve you.

And it is important that your list serve you, not the other way around. When used well, lists can help you collect yourself. But they can beat you up when you give them undue power. You have to decide when it’s time—or not time—for a list. You have to decide what kind of list it will be and what power you will give it.

Sometimes you might make a list of all the tasks that need to be done—every last one—just so you can give yourself permission to cross out half of them and not worry about those. Or maybe you put that half on another list to be dealt with later. In doing that, you have relieved yourself, for today, of those tasks and narrowed today’s list to something that is doable.

Lists are good for dreaming, for prioritizing, for helping the mind make order out of a situation that has become overwhelming. Not every person enjoys lists. In fact, a list for me is a somewhat left-brained, straight-lined thing. Another sort of person might cut that sheet of paper into little pieces, each piece with one task written on it, put those pieces of paper in a jar, and then draw out an item for the day and go from there.

But when you make a list—when you take what’s on your mind and put it out where you can see it, handle it, and do with it as you please—you regain some control over a mind gone berserk with clutter and worry. A list can be very helpful this way. The key is to never allow the list to be the boss. I no longer expect to tick off everything on a list. It’s a mere tool, something to help me keep my place, to keep track of life’s details.

A Little Prayer for the Next Step
I can’t control most of what happens in life, but I enjoy the way I can write down what’s on my mind and give it some order that helps me right now. Thank you for the ability to make lists. I ask that they would serve me well as I seek more order and calm in my life.

Read more from Vinita in Simple Acts of Moving Forward.

About Vinita Hampton Wright 5 Articles
Vinita Hampton Wright has served as senior editor at Loyola Press for 16 years and recently became managing editor of the trade books department. She has written various fiction and non-fiction books, including the novel Dwelling Places with HarperOne, Days of Deepening Friendship and The Art of Spiritual Writing for Loyola Press, and most recently, The St. Teresa of Avila Prayer Book for Paraclete Press. Vinita is a student and practitioner of Ignatian spirituality and is a blogger at dotMagis. For the past few years, she has co-led small groups through the 19th Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises. She lives in Chicago with her husband, three cats, and a dog. In her “spare” time these days, she is working on her next novel.

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