Alexander Gordon Smith

Archive for the Category Making Lists


Make a list…

I was at a book launch last week for a great friend of mine, John Osborne, who has just published ‘The Newsagent’s Window’. It’s the story of a year in his life “spent living vicariously through newsagents windows” and it’s a fantastic read. While I was there I got talking to another friend, Tim, about working from home, and he mentioned something that I’ve been meaning to blog about for a while now.

Making lists.

I always found organisation the hardest thing about working from home. I’ve never been very good at planning my time, and if I have more than one thing to do it can often throw me into a total spin. I panic, I reel, I throw tantrums. Even if I have, say, just two things to do they tend to crash around each other in my mind like two boats on a roiling ocean, caught in the monstrous pull of some vast, hungry Charybdis, spiraling into complete and utter splintery destruction. And if, god forbid, there are more than two things on my daily agenda then I may as well not get out of bed. The moment I try to work out what I’m going to do first those items separate like a flock of startled birds, becoming a storm of flapping wings and pained squawks that sits like an impenetrable white noise over my futile attempt at planning.

Mixed metaphors aside, there is a very easy way of dealing with this. So easy, you might think, that it isn’t actually worth writing down here. But I think it is. So many of my friends are self-employed, and when I speak to them about this one simple technique for staying in control they usually look at me like I’ve told them the answer to two plus two. The ones who have never made lists go away laughing, but the next time I see them they treat me like I’ve given them the secret to never paying taxes again. It’s so simple, I think, that people don’t think it’s worth doing. But it is!

Make a list.

See, simple. So simple that you’re probably thinking you don’t need to do it. But you do, it’s essential. As soon as I got into the habit of making a list – on paper, with a pen – of things I had to do that day I found that I could manage my time. Not only that, but managing time became easy and, dare I say it, fun. Instead of flapping around like a wounded bat, unable to see how I would be able to make it through the day, I discovered that I had a purpose – to cross off as many items on the list as possible. My agenda was no longer an impenetrable vortex of ‘to dos’ that had no start and no finish, a hurried risotto of ingredients that were so numerous and so mixed that I didn’t know where to start. It was a list, a simple, beautiful list with little boxes next to each thing. I could focus, I could see clearly. I would do one thing and cross it off. Then, like a machine, I would move onto the next. And the next. Marking a neat little ‘x’ became an obsession. I became relentless in my organisation, like some creative writing terminator. I would complete today’s itemised mission in an orderly and efficient manner. I was the Arnie of getting things done.

Now I have no doubt that anybody reading this who does work from home will probably already make lists. But even if there is one person who decides to give it a go then this post has been worth it. Try it. It really will change your life.

I’ve just ticked the ‘Post List Blog’ item on today’s page of the diary, one of seven items. Six have already been checked. Seven glorious x’s, one sigh of complete satisfaction, and done.