Wednesday, 8 May 2013

The Joy and the Agony of Making Lists by Ashley Lennon of Skintinthecity

Are you a list maker? Isn’t it agony? Yes, we all know that copious listmaking is meant to make our lives easier, but recently I’ve been wondering if that’s actually true, or just propaganda put out by notebook manufacturers. You see, during a clearout the other day, I came across an old diary, full of lists – and it made for painful reading.

I’m a real list addict. Whether it’s lists of pros and cons for major decisions; lists of  ingoings and outgoings; or plain old to-do lists I make them from the moment I get up. What struck me though, looking at the seven-year-old lists in this diary, was just how much my lists - and by extension my life – had changed. Reading these lists made it plainer than looking in the mirror.

See, seven years ago was pre-children. The to-do lists in the old diary had items on them like, ‘buy flights’ and ‘get cholera jab.' Just to torture myself I looked at my list from yesterday. It said, in order: ‘kiwis, nappies, ice-cube trays, paprika, phone school.’ The ice-cube trays aren’t for hosting a cocktail party, but rather to keep my earrings together in pairs, and stop them getting lost. Anything to make the morning rush a bit less fraught. Glamorous stuff, eh?

Let me share what I’ve learned from re-reading old lists this week: you really shouldn’t do it. It is one of the most depressing things in the world. You may be vaguely aware that you are carrying unaccomplished items forward, but it is only when you start to leaf through old lists and count just how often an item has reoccurred without being crossed off that you realise how hopelessly inept you really are. If you tend, like me, to date your lists, there is no hiding how much of your life you are wasting on transferring unaccomplished items to the new list.

‘Buy paprika’, for example, has been on my list since February. A rough calculation tells me that if I start a new shopping list every couple of days I must have written the words ‘buy paprika’ approximately forty times.

Starry Stuff

Something I did seven years ago and still do today is star each item on to-do lists so I know how urgent they are – one, two or three stars, depending on the level of importance.

I don’t know why I waste time writing ‘buy nappies’ when it’s a three-star situation: I should already be in the car and speeding to the supermarket before my baby starts dripping on the living room. Actually, I do know why I list nappies: so I can cross them off again later.

Crossing things off lists is a compulsion of mine. Sometimes I even add things I’ve already done, but forgot to write down in advance, just so I can cross them off and see my achievement in black and white with a tidy line through it and a nice big tick. Can I really be the only one who does this? Back-filling is an essential skill for any listkeeper, I think.

There was just one ray of light in the list-reading exercise. One of the items from all those years ago was ‘start blog.’ I have to tell you that I didn’t start it in 2006, nor the next year, nor the one after that. Indeed it took four years of mulling it over and writing it down before I eventually started skintinthecity. Just goes to show that if an item sticks around on my list long enough it does, eventually, get done. So, there’s hope for the paprika yet, folks. Perhaps in 2017 I’ll even make a chilli that will really pack a punch.

When not making lists, Ashley Lennon blogs at, which give lots of tips on how to live the luxe life on a shoestring budget. Follow Ashley on Twitter @SkintintheCitySkintinthecity has been named one of the UK's top 25 personal finance sites by Cision.


  1. It's not really a compulsion in my opinion, it's just giving it a way to keep plans organized. I do have lists of my own and some of them I don't get to do immediately. That only shows that you already planned for it, you might not have done it sooner but at least you already thought of it! Better late than never!


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