The Unexpected Power of a List

Joe Mamlin, Senior Consultant, Grays Peak Strategies

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For most of my life I have been a list maker. Even as a very young student I would keep a list of my assignments, lists of activities, lists of things to remember, or even lists of things I wanted. I can remember at age 12 having a list of all the cars I wanted to own. I need to find that list… But other than my wish lists, my list making has mostly been about keeping track of things that I need to do. This has carried over into my adulthood and although I do most of my work electronically, I still have a number of lists. It helps me relieve stress when I have something big coming up to make a list of things I need to prepare. When I’m traveling – especially to multiple places or for an extended time – I need to make a packing list and include even the most obvious things, and sometimes even list out what I intend to wear for each event or meeting I have. On Monday I often pull my lists together and try to combine them into what’s relevant for this week, and of course, I take great joy in crossing things off my list. I have advised people often to look for things that are lingering on their to do lists and get rid of them. For most of my life, lists have been utilitarian for me, and have served me well. However, I recently found a new way to use lists, and it’s even better.

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I still have my to do list, but not long ago a good friend gave me a new appreciation for the power of the list. We all have times when we don’t feel so great. Maybe work isn’t going like you want, maybe there are things in your personal life that are challenging. Whatever it is, I have found that a list can help. And not only can it help me, but it can be a great gift to give to someone else. I learned this when I was given a list. It wasn’t a particularly bad day or anything. In fact, I think I was happy – but this person made a list for me of things to do. These weren’t chores, these were things you should do, things that fill your cup. Some were insightful and specific to me – like “Drum on more things”, and some were universally good advice for anyone like “Tell people you appreciate them”. It wasn’t given to me as if I needed any correction, but more of a reminder of the things that make life fun. From this I learned that people really appreciate a good list, and if you want to do something nice for someone, that won’t cost you more than your time and maybe a piece of paper (they are better on paper for some reason), a list can be just the ticket. So, to that end, I give to you a list of list ideas you can use to brighten someone’s day.

  • Top 10 things that make you a great friend
  • Places I want to experience with you
  • Things that are special about you from A – Z (this is challenging – Q is really hard, X is nearly impossible, but this is a fun list even if you have to fake a couple of letters)
  • 15 ways you make work better for everyone around you
  • 12 things I have learned from you
  • 10 secret words to work into conversations today (a little interactive game great for a long day in meetings)
  • 10 things that I admire about you
  • 5 Things you give me that money can’t buy
  • Songs that remind me of you (this doesn’t have to be as romantic as it sounds… there are millions of songs)
  • Top quotes from you that inspire me or make me laugh
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Give it a try. You will find that it is as much fun to give as it is to receive, and it could wind up being something they laminate and carry around with them for a long time. Yes, I do have a laminator, and yes, I did laminate that list.