Opinion

People who want to look clever rely on memory. People who want to get things done make lists

By Sandy Lloyd

SANDY LLOYD IS MAKING A LIST AND CHECKING IT TWICE

I love a good list.

If it’s possible to make a list for something, then I’m sure I’ve done it.

From grocery shopping and ‘to do’ lists, to Christmas cards and party guest lists, I’ve done them all. With glee.

For obsessive compulsive personalities, a list is like a mix of comfort food and sedatives — it feeds your soul and soothes your brain.

During these uncertain times and coronavirus lockdowns, my lists have been an unchanging constant that helped reduce stress.

I may not have been able to get any toilet paper in those early panic-buying days, but its existence in ink on my grocery list was a reassuring presence.

And as the days blurred together in a working from home fog, a good list each day kept me on track with work tasks and with the ordinary home tasks that sometimes got forgotten in this strange new ‘normal’. (I’m embarrassed to say how long vacuuming was on my ‘to do’ list before I finally crossed it off.)

I knew when I was losing the plot while in isolation, because my list-keeping fell in a bit of a hole. That was when I would give myself a good shake and a stern talking to about getting on with things.

And I’d make a new list and feel better again.

But some of my lists were painful reminders of how much the world had changed.

The lengthy and detailed lists of counting down the days and tasks until my cancelled cruise holiday in April/May had to be hastily put away to stop me feeling sad all over again. I couldn’t tick off ‘get sea-sickness tablets’ or ‘load books on my Kindle’ or ‘pack bathers’ or ‘apply for US visa’.

Or the list of things that could only be done outside of lockdown, and therefore weren’t going to happen. That had ‘print out tickets for Six’ (a stage musical I was supposed to be going to) and ‘organise birthday dinner’ for my daughter.

I’ve always been a list-maker, like my mother and grandmother before me – and now my daughter is continuing the family tradition (although she ‘writes’ her lists electronically more often than putting pen to paper).

I carry a little notebook with me at all times, full of my lists. I once left it behind at a supermarket checkout and had to rush back in a mad panic to find it.

A kind person had handed it in to the service desk. “My life is in that notebook,” I told the sympathetic supermarket assistant. She understood.

My first editor at the Shepparton News was Ken Ball. I remember him fondly because he gave me a cadetship straight out of high school, and he was always keen to help his young staff.

His two pearls of wisdom that have stuck with me my entire life were:

One: Always write every story as if it’s going on the front page. It doesn’t matter if it’s a murder investigation or the Gem Club notes — they are just as important to someone.

Two: Always write a list of what you have to do tomorrow at the end of each working day. I suspect this rule-to-live-by was mainly because if I got hit by a bus overnight he could still get the paper out the next day. But it’s still a good one — that act of getting work out of your head and on to a piece of paper so you don't think about it at home.

That’s why when you wake up in the middle of the night with the worries of the world running on a loop through your head, getting it down on paper can help you get back to sleep.

Psychologist and author Dr David Cohen told The Guardian a few years ago that our love of to-do lists came down to three reasons: they dampen anxiety about the chaos of life; they give us a structure, a plan that we can stick to; and they are proof of what we have achieved that day, week or month.

Time management expert David Allen — whose book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity has made him a cult figure in the field — told The Guardian he believes anyone with a full schedule and no structure will struggle to cope.

A system is needed — and scribbled notes on hands won’t cut it.

So next time the world feels like it’s closing in on you and you don’t know how you’ll cope — make a list.

If it worked for famous list-makers like Peter Mark Roget (the British doctor and lexicographer who wrote the original Thesaurus) and Benjamin Franklin (American founding father, writer and inventor), then it can work for us more ordinary folk.

I AM ADMIRING...

Astronaut and deep-sea diver Kathy Sullivan.

What an extraordinary woman! Kathy, now 68, was the first American woman to walk in space and now she is the first woman to dive to the deepest place on earth.

The former NASA space shuttle astronaut completed her history-making space walk back in 1984.

On June 6, she became the first woman to visit Challenger Deep — the bottom of the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean.

She’s the only human to have ever been up in orbital space and down below at maximum ocean depth (that’s 10 914 metres down — Mt Everest is 8848 metres high).

I AM WATCHING...

The Trip to Greece, the fourth instalment in Michael Winterbottom’s ‘travelogue’ series, that started with The Trip in 2010.

Through northern England, Italy, Spain and now Greece, British comedians and actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon — as fictionalised versions of themselves — have eaten fabulous food in gorgeous locations and walked in the footsteps of famous writers.

In Greece, it’s Homer and the route home taken by Odysseus after the Trojan War. All the while talking non-stop and doing amazing impressions.

COVID-19 stopped its cinema release, but you can hire or buy it online.

I AM STREAMING...

One Zoom To Rule Them all — the brilliantly named Lord of the Rings online cast reunion, hosted by Josh Gad.

Gad brought together nearly the entire cast of the beloved fantasy trilogy in one call, including Sir Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen and Elijah Wood, as well as director Peter Jackson.

There were many highlights for fans of the films, with the cast members recreating some of their favourite scenes, sharing their fondest memories of starring in the trilogy and paying a touching tribute to dialect coach Andrew Jack, who taught the cast Elvish and recently died of coronavirus.

I AM WALKING...

The dog again.

We’ve had a few weeks off after she had ANOTHER operation — this time for a lump on a front leg (last year was a lump on her neck) and some much-needed dentistry (a tooth removed).

A useful by-product of working from home is it’s easier to nurse a recuperating dog — I’m on hand to put the plastic cover on her leg to protect the wound when it’s time to go outside for the toilet.

But it also means she can target me with that ‘why do you keep letting them do this to me?’ half-accusing, half-despairing look from behind the plastic cone of shame.

We’re both glad it’s over.