Successful To-Do List Junkie Shares Secrets

Finally — someone who might be more obsessed with to-do lists than me. Sasha Cagen wrote a book all about lists called “To-Do List: From Buying Milk to Finding a Soul Mate, What Our Lists Reveal About Us” and she actually analyzed lists sent in by ordinary people. I thought she’d be the perfect featured list producer this month so I asked her a few questions:

Q: Why do you call yourself a compulsive list producer?

A: My lists probably look insane to most people. I rely on to-do lists even to get minute tasks done. For example, when I am really feeling stressed about getting ready to go to the airport, I might write a list that includes items like “brush teeth” and “get dressed.” If it wasn’t for me creating lists, I think I would forget everything! When you write things down, it just makes everything a lot easier to manage, no matter what it is.

Lists help me create order in my mind when I am feeling overwhelmed. And I use lists to get huge things done too. Lists have a magical way of sending me out into the universe and making things happen, just because I write my desires down on a list.

Q: What do you make lists about?

A: Everything. I write lists about my health—what do I need to do to get healthy. I was recently diagnosed with celiac disease and gluten is my enemy, and there are a lot of things I do to get myself to optimal wellness. I write lists about my requirements for my ideal mate. I write lists about what I need to do this week. I write lists about what I want to do this year and I also make collages, pulling images from magazines, just to see what instinctively inspires me and what I would like to invite into my life. The collage is on the refrigerator to remind me of what I want. I keep lists of essays I want to write. The lists don’t stop.

Q: How often do you make lists?

A: I make a daily list almost every day, pulling from the master list of items I am keeping track of, to see what’s going to get done today and in what order.

The big-picture, reflective, inspirational lists come as needed, often after a coaching session when my coach helps me to tune into the ways I have been holding myself back with limiting beliefs. Listing is a great way to tap into my desires, things I may have not thought of as possible. I allow myself to be very free when I list big-picture things like, My Ideal Life. My wisdom tells me that if you list it, it’s more possible than it you don’t. My advice is: Don’t hold yourself back in aspirational lists.

Q: What type of list do you make the most?

A: Things to do today

Q: How do you make lists?

A: I make lists on random scraps of paper, in notebooks, in email, and in a listmaking app that I can access on my desktop and iPhone. I find myself adding items on the go on my phone more and more so that I can empty out my mind as much as possible. It becomes compulsive, but it also helps me to feel more relaxed, knowing that my to-do list mind is mapped.

Q: How have you found lists help you succeed?

A: When I write books (including my To-Do List book) I use lists to stay organized. When I left the country for a year to travel in South America, I had a HUGE list of things to do, and I never would have launched my travels without them. (Of course when I was in South America I tried to abandon listmaking to try out another way of life. Brazil, Colombia, and Argentina are far less list- and productivity-obsessed.) When I am feeling stuck I make lists of my fears in order to clear out space in my mind and get unstuck. Paradoxically listing your fears can make you more successful in breaking through own limits.

Lists help me stay accountable and they are also a huge springboard for creativity because I let myself get so free when I list names for a project, or possible chapters for a book, or the countries I want to visit. The Middle English root of the verb to list is to lust, and in that sense, I just go with the desire aspect of listing and let all possible ideas go on the page (or the screen).

The downside is getting too attached to the list, and crazed in my listmaking. So I like to have no-listing days too because otherwise I start to feel like a hamster in a to-do list wheel, only obsessed with getting things done.

Q: Specifically what was the last thing you wrote a list about?

A: A list of improvements I want to make on my To-Do List blog ?

Sasha Cagen is the author of To-Do List: From Buying Milk to Finding a Soul Mate, What Our Lists Reveal About Us. As the world’s leading todolistologist, she has collected thousands of real, handwritten to-do lists from people all over the world and published many on

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