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Art of List-Making | Notebook Love

A Lust for Lists: How to Master the Art of List-Making.

Are you a list-maker? Do you organise your chaos, bullet-point your dreams and streamline your shopping with lists, lists, lists? If so, you are in wonderful, cooky, logical, productive, creative company.

Every list-maker has their own system and tools: bullet points, symbols, stickers, different colours, dividing the page or just throwing it all down in one big download.

The beauty of list-making is that there’s no right or wrong way of doing it.

But whether you’re a ticker-offer or a crosser-offer, perhaps some of these shiny tips and insights will help you hone your list mastery.

Or perhaps you’ve been part of the list-resistance for years, in which case maybe now we can convince you to crack the spine of that notebook and give it a go.

to-do lists - Notebook Love Blog
There are many reasons to list. Some do it for fun, some do it for business, some do it for EVERYTHING! That’s me! It’s also Richard Branson. He says,

“In order to make sure I achieve everything that not only needs to get done but also everything I want to get done, I make lists – lots of them. I have always lived my life by making lists. These vary from lists of people to call, lists of ideas, lists of companies to set up, lists of people who can make things happen. I also have lists of topics to blog about, lists of tweets to send, and lists of upcoming plans. Each day I work through these lists. By ticking off each task, my ideas take shape and plans move forward.”

And goodness only knows how far forward Mr. B has gone. Space no less! - well nearly!

A LIST OF LISTS - Which Do You Use?

  • Shopping lists
  • To-Do lists
  • Business ideas lists
  • Story ideas lists
  • Blog ideas lists
  • Funny things the kids have said lists
  • Things we need to sort out in the house lists
  • Wish lists
  • Goals, hopes, dreams
  • Prayer lists
  • Christmas lists (presents, food, tasks…)
  • Bucket Lists

Master you to-do lists - Notebook Love Blog

If you’re at a loss as to where to start, try this method for size and see if it helps you become more productive through the week:

  1. Create a Master List. Empty your busy head onto paper. Everything-but-everything goes down on here. Don’t worry about it being in any particular order. Just get it down as you remember things and you can always add to it later when tasks pop into your head. I do tend to have two lists (domestic and work/business) running in parallel as they’re such distinct areas of my life. But one list is totally fine to start with. You can play with layouts later. I also tend to put a bullet point before each item on the list.
  2. Once you have got your master list, circle the bullet points of the most important tasks, perhaps the things you really want or need to get done that week. That makes it easier to refer to your priorities at a glance later on.
  3. At the weekend I take a look at the master list and on the next two pages of my notebook, I scribble down a rough week layout. Then under each day, I allocate the tasks I will be doing that day or would like to get done that day. Sometimes there are carry-forwards and that’s OK. And don't give yourself too much to do. I usually leave a few extra blank lines under each day for tweaks and additions (and carry-forwards) as the week progresses. The whole planning process only takes a few minutes and really helps me tackle my week head-on and with so much more purpose.
  4. Then comes the satisfying bit. As I get through the tasks, not only do I tick off the tasks that I’ve written under each day but I can go back to the master list and it tick it off there too. Small pleasures!
  5. The master list never gets completely ticked off. After a few weeks, it has been well and truly bitten into but there are always things that hang about for a long time. I’m not procrastinating. I’ve just been effectively prioritising! Tasks like, clean the windows and sew on that button, can hang around for ages, but they do get done eventually! So once the master list is looking a bit scruffy and there’s no room for new additions, it’s time to start a fresh, new virgin list. And so the process continues and my life progresses. Bish-Bash-Bosh.

And speaking of virgin lists, here are Richard Branson’s top 10 tips for making lists:

  1. Write down every single idea you have, no matter how big or small.
  2. Always carry a notebook.
  3. Find a list method that works for you. Doodles, bullet-points, charts. What suits you best?
  4. Make a list of small, manageable tasks to complete every day.
  5. Mark off every completed task. You'll find making each tick very satisfying.
  6. Make your goals measurable so you know if your plans are working.
  7. Set far off, outlandish goals. What do you want to have achieved by 2020? How about 2050?
  8. Include personal goals in your lists, not just business.
  9. Share your goals with others. You can help motivate each other further.
  10. Celebrate your successes then make new lists of new goals.
Art of List-Making | Notebook Love


Being a fervent note-taker and list-maker, Branson actually seems to be bucking the more female-skewed trend. He even said it in another more general article about note-taking that he’d noticed how “women (were) more likely to be note takers in meetings because there is an unfair expectation on them to do support work. In other words as a society, we expect the office housework to fall to a woman.”

Oh dear.

And it seems that it’s the case at home too. But possibly self-inflicted.

In her BBC Radio 4 programme, Listless, Jenny Eclair notes the same phenomenon about lists - it seems that the world’s list-makers are women.

A fascinating art exhibition by Alice Instone seemed to confirm this too. ‘The Pram in the Hall’ featured to-do lists of public figures and they reveal so much about the juggling that goes on in women’s lives. You can read about it here in the fantastically headlined Guardian article: “Save the World then Ice a Cake”

There are no lists in her exhibition from men, “because, there hardly were any”. But, she observes in Jenny Eclair's programme, it seems that we have many self-imposed tasks on our lists like grooming, thank you letters, birthday cards and birthday presents, “Men don’t really seem to go in for that,” says Instone, “I think women suffer from guilt.”

What did feature in the exhibition were to-do lists belonging to public figures. It demonstrated the sheer spectrum of tasks - the fantastical and the mundane sitting one on top of another. Human rights activist, Shami Chakrabarti, had to:

“Buy a Christmas tree and re-read the counter terrorism bill.”

While Emma Freud had to “Call Jason Donovan and buy secret Santa gifts.”

And when asked if she could live list free herself, Instone relays a wonderful story:

“My memory’s not good enough to remember all the important things. I live in fear the whole time of forgetting something. I remember once it was the school photo and I got it wrong and I thought it was the dress-up Spanish day and I took my poor daughter to school in a Spanish costume.”

Art of List-Making | Notebook Love

There you have it. We really do need lists to help us remember everything.


So why, in this digital age, are so many still turning to paper? Well, it turns out there’s a double-whammy benefit to list-making on paper.

I can’t concentrate too well on the task in hand if I have so many other tasks and things to remember swimming around my brain. With so many to-dos tapping me on the mental shoulder all day, I get no peace and I’m less likely to remember them (or I remember at the wrong time, like when I’m driving and I can’t do anything about it). Getting it down on paper not only puts my thoughts into some sort of order but it also makes my tasks easier to remember.

It may be a subconscious decision on our part to opt for paper rather than the iPad, but…

It is scientifically proven that the act of physically writing something down rather than typing it helps us remember things better. It lodges what we have written deeper in the brain. I like to think of it as pinning down those floating thoughts and mastering them rather than have them mastering me.

In a nutshell: Lists help bring order to our minds and they help us remember better - not just because they’re in our hand on a list but because they’re more deeply secured in our brain.

But there are some clever apps out there that may not help you engrave your tasks in your psyche quite as easily but they do make some nice noises when you ‘tick them off’.

‘Productivity’ is the most popular category of apps out there and within that grouping are many list apps.


  • Check Check
  • Daily List
  • Soon
  • Clear
  • Wunderlist
  • Google Keep

And then there are the apps that make getting your tasks done even more fun.

Habitika is a gamified task manager in which you create an avatar that you effectively have to keep alive by completing good tasks while bad habits remove your character’s health. Talk about more guilt! The better you do in real life, the more content you unlock in the game. You can also play with friends to stay accountable in real life.

A cute idea and helpful for some for motivation perhaps, but honestly, for me, with a family of six to look after, adding another virtual dependent is the last thing I need!

Meanwhile, TaskTowers has a similar idea whereby every time you complete a task you get a brick for your virtual tower. But when you miss a task, your tower is knocked down and you have to start again. Seems harsh! I think I’ll stick to my ticks., which clearly states that it is not for groceries, is an app that steers us away from productivity and more towards procrastination and curiosity. Developed by the comedian/producer/writer BJ Novak (best known for his role as Ryan in the American Office) the app hosts a whole community of list makers and invites people to add to public lists and comment on others’ lists. Lists range from:

  • Things I demand from a Rom Com 
  • Best Advice I’ve ever Received 
  • The Best Small Towns to visit in France
  • Battle List: Pizza vs Sushi 
  • Three Happy Moments from Today

Other list apps for fun include Santa’s Naughty and Nice List, iWish, Bucket List. The list of list apps is endless.


I like this idea as it almost turns making lists into a philosophy while giving novices a helping hand. It helps anyone with a fear of the blank page. Similar to the idea of, Listography is available as an app AND as many physical journals with list prompts.

Featuring examples and quirky illustrations, titles include Food, Parenthood, Films, Music, Friends, Future, Love and there’s even a compilation book with a selection of list topics to capture your autobiography, promote creativity and revisit memories. There’s also one for kids with prompts like: List your favourite things about your family. There’s even a retro board game where the best list wins!

Art of List-Making | Notebook Love

Well all these list-lists have started to make my head spin. I probably ought to turn my attention to my own to-do list before ticking off ‘Notebook Love Blog about lists’.


I have a few oddities this week. In amongst the usuals of folding washing, the big shop and swimming lessons I have:

  • Write baboon story
  • Check University open days
  • Book Primary School visits 

I’d better get on and get some of these ticked off! But before I do, what’s the oddest thing on your list? We’d love to hear in the comments below.

And we’d also LOVE to hear about your own method of listing. Do you have any hints or tips? Please do share your wisdom. We might even start a new list of notebook lovers’ list tips. We’ll put it on the to-do list!

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