Making lists [aka prioritising]

Pink Spaghetti


Part seven of our summer series on parenting skills that transfer to the workplace…

How much information can the brain store? Particularly when it has undergone months of sleep deprivation, meaning its short term memory is completely shot? It’s a conundrum, but when you have to organise other people than yourself things have to be remembered. Small people could end up wearing a school uniform that is four years too small for them, friendships could be ended, schools could send warnings…all just due to a few memory malfunctions. This is where lists and listing skills come into their own.

1. Listing technique

Listing is all about priorities. Being able to prioritise well is absolutely essential at work and at home. Is it more important to write the strategy report for tomorrow’s meeting or answer that red flagged email from your boss? Is it more important to get people to school on time without their full kit, risking a later detention and an additional pick-up or to turn back and get their schoolbag and be five minutes late for the rest of the day? With a list, your things to do can be numbered, colour-coded, ranked and scheduled so you are sure to get the most important stuff done first. It is vital not to focus only on the absolutely urgent stuff. The ticking along stuff needs to be scheduled in too, for instance, clearing out clothes that are too small/clearing out your inbox. A good listing technique allows you to factor this in before it results in an absolute emergency eg your child gets trapped in an overly small t-shirt/your inbox closes down just at the point that you are expecting an urgent report from your main client.

2. List placement

True list specialists know that the placing of the list is crucial. There is no point having a list and then losing it or forgetting where you put it. It needs to be somewhere prominent or somewhere you look often eg the fridge. For urgent issues, the back/palm of the hand is useful as long as you don’t wash your hands. Multiple lists or a single masterlist? Or both? Each list professional will have their own tactics. Should you keep work and home stuff separate? This is a personal preference issue. Some like to delineate; others prefer to merge. One good thing about merging is that you have more things to tick off, which can be very satisfying. But then again you also have more things to add on. Swings and roundabouts.

3. Lists for special occasions

Some occasions call for their very own list eg weddings, Christmas, summer holidays. Christmas in particular is the time of list overdrive, as all parents know. Everything is flashing red. It calls for special listing expertise to negotiate this. This can include multi-listing, notebooks by the bed and an extensive use of colour-coded post-it notes. It is not only the practical stuff that dictates priorities. This has to be cross-referenced by emotional issues [eg curbing the time warring relatives spend in the same room]. It’s a minefield, the PhD of listing techniques, and once you have mastered it organising any office event is a walk in the park.

4. A notebook to hand

Listing experts always have a notebook handy or a small envelope. They are used to being hit by amazing ideas or remembering small details in the most unusual of places which, if not jotted down immediately, will disappear into the ether for ever.

5. Digital or paper?

Listing has moved into a different era of late as people carry their lists around with them on their phones. But what if you have no connection? True experts have learnt by experience, thought ahead and have a back-up list.

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