How to make a list that lasts

I come from a family of list-makers. My mother, my sister and I make lists for all sorts of reasons – sometimes we even make lists that list our other lists (think particularly about moving house).

I maintain a system of to-do lists for my working and personal life – I currently work for three different clients and could not possibly keep it all straight in my head if I didn’t have a list for each of them.

Those lists are simple affairs – the things I need to do on any given day, in my diary, ticked off as I do them. The key thing about them is that they differ from day to day.

But what about when the list doesn’t vary much over time? Think for instance of grocery shopping. If you do a big monthly shop, you’ll probably be writing the same list every month: washing powder, tinned tomatoes, rice, noodles and so on. For those, I would suggest another organising tool: the recurring list.

One list to bind them all

Instead of writing that same grocery list every month, I keep a master list in Excel (or Google Sheets) which I print whenever the dreaded Big Shop is due. Then we look in the cupboards and check the printed list: if we have enough washing powder, then it gets crossed off the list. If we need noodles (we always need noodles), it stays on the list.

Because we generally shop in the same supermarket, I also have the list organised to reflect the layout of the shop. For instance, there’s a category called “Side of Shop” which contains such varied items as frozen peas and bread because in our local Checkers, the bread is right next to the freezers where the frozen vegetables are kept.

If I find something in the shop that we need, and that is not on the list, I write in on the paper list in my hand. I keep that piece of paper and when I next print the list out, I add that item.

Other kinds of recurring lists

I have use for recurring lists: holidays.

I have a camping list and a self-catering list, because those are the two kinds of holidays we are likely to undertake.

Before each holiday, I print the appropriate list and stick it into a bulging hardcover book, which then goes on the kitchen table and is used as we get ready. The holiday book then goes in the car, and while we are on holiday any essential item we discover we need but didn’t pack gets written in the book. Back home, it gets added to the central list.

Dear reader, before we had these lists we once went camping without the duvet, and once managed to forget the tent pegs. With the lists, we have forgotten things – but never anything as vital as the tent pegs. (Though we did once leave the tent’s flysheet behind: we thought it was in the tent bag but it wasn’t).

It takes a little work to set up a recurring list the first time you do it, but over time they get more and more refined – until they feel like an old friend, just waiting to help you get things done.

And who doesn’t need one of those?

Main picture: David Ballew, Unsplash (the caption reads: It’s always fascinating to read a stranger’s shopping list. I found this one in the parking lot of my local Walmart in Carthage, Missouri. Between the odd assortment of items, the notepad from a New Orleans hotel, and the contrast of white paper on paint and asphalt, it made a really interesting picture.)

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