What do you do when you feel overwhelmed, like life is spiraling out of control?
I write lists.
To-do lists, pros and cons lists, bucket lists, wish lists, checklists, galore.
They help me feel more in control of my life, focused on my goals and at peace with the direction my life is taking. And I’m not alone. Research shows list-making reduces stress levels and boosts brainpower, putting you in your best shape to kick ass for the day. That’s why drawing a line through a finished task feels so therapeutic. Quite simply, it is.
But there are five lists in particular I focus on every single day to ensure I stay on track with my aspirations while keeping my happiness in the forefront of my mind:
1. The Gratitude List
Everyone needs to set aside some time every day for a little introspection and self-awareness. But I can’t force myself to meditate. My mind wanders. It’s boring.
However, I do take some time every morning to reflect by making a mental list of five things for which I’m grateful. This routine starts off every day with a wave of happiness.
In fact, research shows regular feelings of gratitude increase positivity, benevolence and even goal achievement. And no one can have too much of these things, right?
I try to get down to specifics as I compile this mental list every morning. Instead of feeling generally grateful for Ryan, for example, I think of the last time he helped me cook dinner or planned out our weekend so that I didn’t have to worry about it.
I used to write my five things down every day, but this simple extra step made me less likely to get through the effort every day. And, let’s be honest, it’s not like I’m going to ever reread that list. It’s just a waste of paper or data storage.
2. The Workday To-Do List
While I use Asana for my work projects, I still love the old-fashioned paper and pen for my daily to-do lists. To ensure my mornings start off on an organized and positive note, I always make my task list for the next day in the last 10 minutes at work each evening.
I structure it in order I need to do things – for example, social scheduling in the morning, followed by tasks that take less energy until lunch. I use my afternoon for the priorities requiring my full attention for hours at a stretch. I often spend this time writing.
Of course, sometimes I open up my email in the morning to several more important tasks that take precedence, and the list gets shaken up a bit. But that’s life. And at least I have a head start.
3. The Eat This, Not That List
I live with a person who eats cookies with every meal, so for me, dieting is never as simple as not allowing unhealthy food into my house. To avoid the sweets taunting me, I make a quick list of everything I plan on eating that day while I make my morning coffee. It keeps me on track and helps me space out my snacks during the day so I don’t end up over my daily calorie goal.
I use MyFitnessPal to log my calories and exercise. A few months ago I started logging my calories for the day first thing in the morning. This strategy allows me to plug and play with my meals to see what happens if I do cheat and helps me set myself back on track on those days I end up sneaking a cookie.
4. The Personal To-Do List
This is my list for those things I just have to do. I try to keep this to one or two things per day to keep it manageable while still getting to feel like I accomplished something. Paying the bills, doing laundry, setting dentist appointments, cleaning the bathroom and grocery shopping all fall on this list.
Some people save these personal responsibilities for the weekend, but that leaves me little time for fun, relaxation or sleeping in. Priorities, friends, priorities! If I knock out all of the boring, menial tasks, I have much more time for skipping about the city all day on Saturday and Sunday.
5. The Ideas Checklist
I recently read a great article about how to flex your creativity muscles by becoming an idea machine. And so, my daily list ritual got a bit longer.
The author, James Altucher, recommends aiming for ten ideas to really loosen up your mind every day. I’ve taken his advice and keep a running note in Evernote, dedicated to these little moments of inspiration. Sometimes it’s really difficult to get to ten every single day.
The point here, of course, is to take action on the best of these ideas. I haven’t exactly had an award-winning one yet, though. Any day now.
What About You?
Each of these lists has a specific purpose – increasing my happiness, boosting my productivity, adding peace to my life, making me a creativity machine. Yes, they take up time in my day to build, but I’m living a happier and more organized life as a result.
What about you? Do you have daily rituals that accomplish something important for you? Tell me about it in a comment below.
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