Lists can increase creativity

A list can spark creativity, generate ideas for current and future projects and provide a sense of control and mastery
A list can spark creativity, generate ideas for current and future projects and provide a sense of control and mastery

My life without lists is unimaginable. I don’t know how I’d operate without them. Some of my lists are ongoing. Others spring up whenever there’s a new need, or simply because I feel like making a catalogue or a record. Mostly my lists are about the future.  Occasionally, they’re open-ended records.

My lists have been quite furtive, a slight embarrassment, really. In my life, anything can be an excuse for a list. The truth is that I really love writing and using them. If I’m not making lists it’s because I’m miserable or unwell. Or perhaps it’s the other way around: when I’m not making lists, I become miserable…

Recently, two things helped me focus on the idea of lists. The first was that someone who read my new manuscript said they’d been struck by the number of lists it contains. A global search showed far too many semi-colons (the device I use without thinking for separating items in writing). I rewrote the offending passages immediately.

Second, a number of  ‘pins’ have appeared on the social media platform Pinterest These have been lists about ways to be creative, or  more creative. These pins about creativity all seem to include making lists.

List of how to be more creative on Pinterest - make lists!
List of how to be more creative on Pinterest – make lists!

I’ve decided to come clean about my own list-making.

List-making is a family habit. My father, a cardboard box maker by trade and a dreamer by inclination, always made lists. He took his list-making so seriously that he even cut special cards exactly the right shape to fit into his shirt pockets. His cards were white, with a lovely writing surface. Now my brother, Peter Stone, keeps me supplied with similar cards cut exactly to my specifications.

Peter (of The Big Picture Factory, a useful resource for artists, writers and other creative people) is one of the most original thinkers I know. He makes lists. So does our sister, Elizabeth Worts, owner of Dowerin Bed and Breakfast in the Eastern Wheat Belt of Western Australia. You can see the blog I posted about Elizabeth here.

A list can serve many functions, besides being an organising tool

Here are a few of the things lists can do:

  • Spark creativity
  • Generate ideas for current and future projects
  • Provide a sense of control and mastery
  • Organise and contain inner chaos
  • Help select and prioritise tasks
  • Show the steps to achieve a goal
  • Set the stage for commitment and action
  • Show what is important and what is trivial
  • Help manage overwhelming task-loads
  • Improve efficiency
  • Record and rank achievement
  • Identify needs
  • Identify gaps
  • Be fun.

Lists can be strictly utilitarian, like the one on the refrigerator door with the groceries that need to be replaced or a list of things to do before the holidays.

But others are more personal and creative, like the ‘to-do’ list I write every Saturday morning in my journal as a reminder of what I’m looking forward to, what I hope to achieve and the things I must do during the following week. I use colours to highlight the different categories of activities. In the back of my journal, I have a list of short-term goals.

My ‘birthday list’ – a record in a pretty notebook that goes back perhaps fifteen years – is a review of what I’ve done as well as a substantial catalogue of what I hope to achieve in the following year.

As well as these, there are at least thirty-two other current lists on my computer, in notebooks or on cards. They include things I’m grateful for and the oceans I’ve paddled my feet in. No wonder I’m embarrassed about my list-making. Obviously, keeping that many lists up to date can be time-consuming but there’s always room for more.

I’d like to start some new ones along these lines:

  • New ideas to ponder
  • Things to do before I’m too old
  • Things to learn
  • Things I want to know how to do
  • Things I should change
  • My favourite things

Thank you again for visiting my post. I’d be fascinated to hear about the lists other people make in comments .


10 replies on “Lists can increase creativity”

  1. Haha! So you weren’t at all surprised by my three “pre holiday” lists you found on my kitchen bench last week then?
    It appears list making is alive and well!

    1. Hi, Claire, and welcome home! No, as I said in the post, list making is a family tradition, and I’m pleased to see my grandchildren are keeping it alive. I especially loved Bhen’s addition (SMILE!) to your longest list.

  2. We’re worlds apart in this regard. My lists are written on scraps of paper, short and messy, and not daily; I only use them a couple of times a week. As for long-term and creative lists, occasionally I’ve tried to use them, only to discard them. I seem to be a day by day person. I do have goals, but they’re in my head, and they change as I live.

    1. I love the way we often do things so differently, Christina, although I’m surprised you don’t make lists. It’s one of those family culture things that I haven’t questioned before – my family of origin made lists, and that is how I learned to do it, so I assume (wrongly) that other people do it too. Interesting differences!

  3. I certainly cannot even imagine how I would survive without my lists!! But maybe I am gentler on myself – I think of my lists as ‘reminders’ – sometime gentle ones – at other times a bit more pushy. many a time I will ump out of bed just before falling into the land of dreams – I have suddenly thought of something that has to be put on my ‘reminder’ – but I am pleased when I wake up and see what I have to do for the day – my ‘reminders’ are my best friends.

    1. A woman after my own heart, Elizabeth! I love my lists, too. They are friends, reminders, playmates. I guess that’s why I think they can be so creative. Albert Einstein said that creativity is the mind having fun, and my lists are fun. Thanks for your comment.

  4. I love lists, too, but I’m not as addicted as you! I need my lists to keep me on track, so they’re especially for things I need to do, jobs I need to attend to, things I need to buy. Trouble is, I make them and often ignore them. It does help order my mind, though, to see it visually.

    So, thanks for coming out of the closet about this little ‘habit’ of yours, Maureen. Nevertheless, we will support you if it a problem. I hear there’s a little group called, ‘Lists Anonymous’. You could go along. ‘Hi, I’m Maureen and it’s been, let me consult my list, one hour since I made a list …’

    1. Thanks for your kindness, Louise, and for telling me there is hope. The real problem is that while I was happy to ‘come out’ about my lists, I don’t think I’m ready for a cure just yet. True addictions like this are often not very responsive to treatment. What would I replace them with?

  5. You didn’t mention how we cross items off our lists- always a downward stroke through the item, NEVER a stroke through the item! Very important, our dad showed us that. Dad sometimes wrote his lists on big off cuts of cardboard – maybe 300mm x 600mm, whatever was handy. I still have some of the original list cards!
    I’m not in your class of list making, Maureen.
    Peter hates the maintenance lists I write for us both, but he relishes crossing off completed items.
    For eight years I kept a list of every baht I spent in Thailand just to see where this ‘play money’ went.
    Living in Thailand was pre email days. I kept a book with the dates I wrote letters! A page for each person where I’d put the date of the letter so I’d know when I wrote next time not to go back beyond that date!
    I don’t even have a bucket list – I must start one- ‘failing to plan is planning to fail’-don’t want to kick the bucket without even one item on my list!!

    1. I didn’t know Dad wrote BIG lists. I only remember his fit-to-pocket size ones. But now I think about it, I bet he had lists hidden away as well as his public ones. Thanks for sharing about your lists, Elizabeth. I didn’t know that about you. It’s specially interesting about your Thailand blogs. I do remember the list-notebook you always kept in your purse. Amazing! I wonder if you still do that? It goes to show how important writing a blog can be – brings to light all sorts of new information about other people, as well as ourselves. I don’t have a bucket list, either. I think I should start one, but it seems a bit early or something.

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