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First, Make A List
Why making lists is the ultimate brain hack for enhanced focus and clarity.
When I was around 12-14 years old, I can recall several instances where I would approach my father and ask him for the next shiny thing, such as a new computer, music system, CDs, software, computer games and so on. Although my father always gave me what I asked for, it was not as simple as just asking for it. Every time I approached him with such a request, he would respond with,
"First, make a list.”
This response would always annoy me. I didn't understand why he wanted me to make a list of reasons for wanting a certain thing. All I knew was I wanted something, because I wanted it. He was not ready to accept the plain reason of, “I just want it”. He wanted me to understand the “why?”.
This was also the same response I would get when I would approach him for help on something or when we would discuss complex topics. He would ask me to pause and would say,
“First, let’s make a list”.
And in all cases, whenever I or we made a list, the outcome of the request or discussion was crystal clear. Over the years, after many repetitions of this exercise of list making across many scenarios, the habit of list making became part of me.
It was much later that I realized what my father had given me. He had provided me with a simple yet extremely productive tool for thinking clearly. He had taught me the basics of “how to think”.
Key Attributes And Benefits Of Lists
I use lists for everything. Whether I am preparing for a meeting, working with my team, planning the next project, writing this blog post, making my daily notes, writing my journal, making decisions, todos or any other thing where I need some clarity or brain bandwidth. Following are some of my observations:
is the starting point of thought. It allows you to get all your facts together so that your thoughts can have order.
removes anxiety out of your mind. The mind is calm when it is assured that it does not have to worry about remembering things. The mind is now free to connect the dots.
brings clarity to a situation. It allows us to record a sequence of events, an inventory of items, etc.
fosters creativity as you now have all the variables right in front of you.
allows you to reason and do so, confidently.
allows you to have a brain dump of all your ideas before starting a project. As the list grows, your confidence grows.
allows you to prioritize.
What you just read through above, is also a list. Without you even realizing, you were more focused reading the list than anything else I had mentioned before it. Lists are powerful.
Lists In Action
Here is an example of how I used a list to plan this particular post:
- think of a title and subtitle that conveys the importance of lists - talk about wanting something and Dad asking for list - how you realized it is a framework for thinking - write down a "list" of key attributes and benefits of lists - mention clarity, anxiety, order, reason, confidence, prioritization - mention an example of how you use lists - conclusion: urge reader to use lists, have an image
Once I had the above list in front of me, all I had to do was worry about the right words to get these points across.
Using lists to trigger your thinking process sounds so basic that it is hard to believe it is so powerful. It feels fake to recommend it as a productivity hack. However, it is very easy to validate.
The next time you need clarity of thought, start with a list.
Write down the words as they come to your mind. One word per line.
Don’t be bothered about grammar, spelling, handwriting or ink color. Just write.
Don’t worry about whether you are writing the list on your phone, paper or computer. Just write.
Once you are done writing, go through the list once more. If new words come to mind, add them. Don’t worry about edits or deletes.
Now with the list in front you, allow your mind to start thinking with the list as your domain. You should see an immediate improvement in focus and clarity. Anytime you need to start thinking through a complex scenario, you need to make a decision that involves several variables, planning a new project, thinking about your next set of goals - “First, make a list”.
I hope you found this post insightful. What's your take on lists? Do you have any additional tips to share? Leave a comment below and let's keep the conversation going.
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