Notice how effortlessly this list moves from concrete to abstract, from easy to difficult, from attainable to less attainable. This is the beauty of a good things-to-do list. By walking the list maker through smaller steps, the results seem less impossible.Every great achievement of mankind starts with a list.
1. Buy lot.2. Price stone.
3. Talk with priests.
4. Build pyramid.
See how manageable this is when you break it down? That's why all management books are very big on lists. They call it prioritizing, agenda setting, power-listing, dynamic para-empowering linear visualization and I don't know what else.
With August here, I'm making the back-to-school list. It's a way for me to come to terms with third grade. It's a lot like last year's list:
1. Buy backpacks.
2. Buy new jeans.
3. Buy notebooks with paper that has wide-spaced blue lines and explain that the wide lines aren't just for little kids.
4. Buy pencils with erasers that aren't pink. (The reassuring pink erasers of my youth have been deemed uncool by the Neighborhood Council on School-Supply Standards. See Resolution 28-a.)
5. Call after-school care people and beg them to take the kids back for another year.
6. Rehearse the they're-good-kids-just-high-spirited talk for all new school and day-care personnel. (This time, with FEELING.)
7. Make children promise with their own mouths that this year will be different.
Notice how effortlessly this list moves from concrete to abstract, from easy to difficult, from attainable to less attainable. This is the beauty of a good things-to-do list. By walking the list maker through smaller steps, the results seem less impossible.
It works for nearly everything. In fact, even now, I am exercising the patented formula from the Close Cover Before Striking School of Famous Column Writers:
1. Monday - Come up with brilliant idea for newspaper column.
2. Tuesday - Discuss brilliant idea for newspaper column with co-workers.
3. Wednesday morning - Consider brilliant idea over coffee.
4. Wednesday afternoon - Execute brilliant idea.
5. Late Wednesday - run spell check to convert every "teh" to "the." Use advanced word processing techniques to move paragraphs around randomly until they relate to each other.
6. Really late Wednesday - Slip perfected column based on brilliant idea past unsuspecting editors seconds before deadline.
Note here how the simple addition of a time element lends an air of believability and certainty to this undertaking. There's a reason for this. It is called imitative magic.
Imitative magic is a term from anthropologists. It refers to the primitive belief that by imitating a desired event, you can make it come about. You dance the movements of animals and the animals will come back. The cargo cults build models of the planes so the planes will come back to the island.
List making falls along the same lines. It's on the list; it must happen. List it and they will come.
Imitative magic works more often than any other magic I've tried. Even card tricks. This has made me a believer in lists. Whenever I'm feeling uncertain, I list myself into the future.
1. Buy school stuff (see earlier list).
2. See one last baseball game before the strike.
3. Learn to play steel slide guitar.
4. Determine whether light is a wave or a particle.
5. Suggest a workable health-care reform plan.
6. Win the lottery.
It could happen. It's on the list.