Being a listmaker


Many people don’t see the point of lists. They think

  • they take too much time
  • they don’t have time to make lists
  • their handwriting is too untidy
  • they don’t have a nice notebook.

I can say that none of the above is true – for me anyway. It takes seconds to jot down something you need to remember. I does not matter where you do it, or how you write it down. As long as it works for you. One word or symbol written with a stub of a pencil on a scrap of paper is just as good as anything else if you can find it when you need it.

I am, and always have been, a list-maker. My lists are not very organized or managed but they really help me be more efficient and less stressed.

I have an extremely good long term memory. My short term memory, on the other hand, needs help.

Examples could be

  • in a lesson someone asks me to email them a document. Or as I am leaving, a client changes a time for a lesson or tells me they need briefing material for a country they are visiting.
  • I remember something I need to buy
  • As I am drifting off to sleep I remember something. To prevent me from forgetting it or it preventing me from going to sleep, I write it down
  • I see something in a magazine I want to explore further. I cut out the article and put it in my notebook
  • I count down to special days. Particularly ones that are far away. This way I prolong my enjoyment and increase my anticipation
  • If I am trying to create good habits (taking vitamins, flossing every single day, using eye cream) I cross them off each day on graph paper for about three weeks, until I have formed a habit
  • A meeting I need to invoice for can be cancelled late, rescheduled, or lengthened and I need to note it down to add to my electronic system later.

I have a notebook (or section in my ring binder) for lists, with different categories on different pages – movies to watch, treats, long term to dos, books to read, beauty products to buy, places I wanted to see.

Once a year I type up all my long-term lists, print the document as an A5 booklet and either staple the centre, or cut the A4 page in half, punch it and put it in my Filofax.

More short term lists I have hand-written on a daily or weekly basis in my personal sized Filofax. I throw them away as soon as they are done, or move them to the long term list if they need to be done but there is no time limit.


  • These go in my Week on Two Page inserts. I fill in any date-specific list items in advance, and others go in as they pop up. Every evening I check and update my list for the following day.
  • I often find these do not have enough lines, but it really helps me decide what absolutely needs to be done that day and what can go into the non-urgent lists at the back of my binder. If I run out of space I just put the rest on a post-it or another piece of paper that I just slot in and take out when I am finished.
  • Once these are finished I just throw them away.


  • Every Sunday I fill in any to dos for the coming week. If I find that one day has too many to dos, I tend to spread them around, put the extras on a post it, or move non-urgent ones to a general list.


  • I add dates that bills have to be paid, dates my invoices have to be in and dates all paperwork needs to be done and when my travel card needs to be renewed. I am not detailed – just usually write a word or to remind me.


  • Birthdays, when I will be taking leave.


  • Things that come up during lessons, meetings or just before I go to sleep are jotted on lined notepaper. I just scribble quickly before I forget things
  • Shopping lists go either go in the calendar or on a lined page
  • Hours of translation are written in a list at the back of my notes section.
  • Anything I would like to buy or try goes on a list at the back of my Filofax or TN – this helps quench the wanties and also give me something to look forward to. If I have a bad day or want to reward myself for doing something difficult I look at this list and choose something from it.
  • I buy birthday presents and pretty cards throughout the year as I find things I know particular people would love. However, I often forget that I have done it so I keep a list at the back of my binder of what presents I have bought and who they are for.
  • I use any pen I can find and I don’t worry about being neat.

I don’t worry about how neat my writing is or use strict Bullet Journalling  because, for me, just the note is important and I can sort them out afterwards. Any system with special pages for certain notes, a special notebook, pen, stickers or bullet journalling icons is too time consuming for me and I tend to avoid writing things if it is a faff. I write something and then when it is done I cross it out.

My scheduling system is complicated. I have to record every single booking I make in eight different systems (my Filofax, our electronic booking system, our paper room booking system, client’s calendar, client’s room booking system, with client’s staff and then also in our invoicing system). If I have two changes a day that is 16 changes I have to make in different systems. So my lists need to be simple and help me remember.

I would say also – whether you like things neat and tidy or whether you don’t, whether you like pretty notebooks or whether you prefer scraps of paper, there is no perfect way.  If the concept of purist Bullet Journalling, or using particular paper or notebooks or stickers or decoration works for you – go for it. Everyone is different and different things work for different people. Just go with what works for you.

Would be interested to find out how my readers use lists!



Author: Janet Carr

Fashion, beauty and animal loving language consultant from South Africa living in Stockholm, Sweden.

6 thoughts

  1. This isn’t quite the same thing, but I found this book to be fascinating –

    The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande.

    His other books are also enlightening.

  2. I started a modified bullet journal to maintain all my lists in one spot. Otherwise, I found they were getting lost. I also do a weekly review to see what I did and where I’m going. It helps keep me focused and moving forward, rather than sitting and playing video games!

  3. I just need to note where I left my list when I want to check it. I always make lists but many times lose track of them. They’re lifesavers though. If I can I’ll make a list in my Filofax that I’ve been using since 1994, or in a small Moleskine that fits easily into pocket or bag.
    There’s a book that I have always enjoyed about lists and it’s called “Lists, To-dos . . . and Other Artists Enumerations” by Liza Kirwin, published by Princeton Architectural Press. I bought it at The Morgan Library in NYC for $24.95 in 2011.

  4. I use a sort of simple bullet journal with lists, or as bullet journalist seem to call it collections. I have many like yours, books to buy, a list of Everyman Classics, with the ones I own underlined, films etc etc. Of course it all goes in my Filofax.

  5. I have lists all over the place. If I think ahead and I’m organize, I use my A6 hobo to write down my shopping / to do list of the day. If I’m not organized, I grab a scrap of paper (usually an old envelope) and I jot it all down right before leaving the house. The one time when I don’t do a list and when I probably should is for work. I’m also a freelancer and I have many clients but I never write a to do list. I do, however, keep an excel spreadsheet (or 10) with a record of all my invoices, the job references, the number of hours or words, the date and the amount I get paid for it. I’m really scattered when it comes to organizing myself for work but somehow, I manage and I never miss a deadline. I really liked your post. I think it summarizes all the good reasons why you should write a list (or a hundred).

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