A List of Things That Worked

Lists should be a part of every person’s toolset, when trying to solve a problem.

It’s not just to-do or task lists. Any set of items that are woven together by a common thread counts.

Occasionally, it helps to forget about the to-do list and create a “to-done” list. Instead of writing down what you need to do, you write done what you’ve already done that was successful.

I use this with my newborn (who is almost out of newborn status). Any time I do some weird action that causes him to sleep better, or be less fussy, I write it down. When I am totally depleted, I turn to this list. If the same action doesn’t work twice because he’s changed, or because it was a fluke… I cross it off the list.

In some ways, this doesn’t seem like an actual solution. After all, the techniques on the list either work or they don’t, and sometimes it’s hard to tell if something that worked once will ever work again.

But writing is thinking. I can think deeply in my head about how to manage my child and fight a battle each day when it comes time to take action, or I can use a tool like a list to sort through all of the different widgets I could crank to achieve the goal.

And maybe that’s why a list is full of magic. The list (any list) transforms large, complex ideas into achievable, do-able, crankable widgets (as David Allen puts it). It turns the waterfall into bottled water, and it makes a room of books turn into a library.

And once you’ve got widgets, anyone can crank those. The list becomes a flyswatter, a ladle, a spatula, a sifter.