THE METHOD I AM ABOUT to share with you
will help you clarify your thinking, get rid of upsets, solve
problems, organize your activities, and make you more productive.
It's a simple tool, and you already know about it. But just as
Dorothy had the way back to Kansas all along without realizing
it, merely having the tool doesn't do the trick. The key
is knowing you have the tool, and knowing what you can
do with it.
The master tool is making lists.
Listmaking can be applied to a great many areas of your life.
I don't know if there is a natural limit to the usefulness of
this tool, but I will give you a few examples of how I use it.
One of the things that tends to stress
me out is the accumulation of too much to do. I collect things
I want to do much faster than I can do them. So I need to manage
my time better.
The best audio program I've ever heard
on time management is from Earl Nightingale's Lead The Field program. He tells the true
story of an efficiency expert named Ivy Lee who visited the president
of a steel company to convince that president Lee's firm could
help him manage his company better. The president said he wasn't
managing his company as well as he knew how, and that what was
needed wasn't more knowing, but more doing. He said everyone
at the company knew what they should be doing, and if Lee could
tell him how to get more of it done, he'd pay him anything within
reason he asked.
Lee got out a blank sheet of paper, and
asked the president to write down the six most important things
he needed to do the next day. It took the president about three
minutes to do it.
Then Lee asked him to number them in the
order of their importance to the success of the company. The
president took another five minutes to do that.
Then Lee said something like this: "Now
tomorrow, pull that piece of paper out of your pocket and go
to work on number one. Don't worry about the others until the
first one is done. Then go to number two. And so on. Once you've
convinced yourself of the value of this method, teach it to your
people, and then send me a check for whatever you think it's
A few weeks later, Ivy Lee received a check
for twenty-five thousand dollars. And the president wrote that
what Lee taught him was the most profitable lesson he'd ever
learned. Within five years, the company became one of the leaders
in its field, and its success was largely attributed to that
I've used that method too many times to
count, and it always clarifies my mind and helps me get more
done. I always immediately feel less stressed as soon as I've
written the list, so I sleep better. It takes time to make the
list and put it in order but the increased efficiency more than
makes up that time. Don't take my word for it. Try it, and then
send me a check for whatever you think it's worth (wink).
Here's another example of how I've used
the master tool: When I'm worried about something, I use listmaking
to help me think. When I feel agitated, I ask, "What's bothering
me?" And I'll make a list. The list is always finite.
That realization, all by itself, is relaxing. When the worries
are in my head, it seems like there's a lot of them, but when
they're written down, I can see there aren't that many. Once
I've got my worries written down and I look at them, many of
them seem pretty stupid.
But usually there is at least one important
problem on that list, so I take out another piece of paper and
ask this question: "What can I do about that?" Usually
I write the question at the top of a page, and number one through
ten on the page and then force myself to fill in all ten with
something I can do that might help. Often the most original ideas
are the ones I come up with last, as if I need to get
the obvious ones out of my head before I have room to think something
original. I've solved many a problem with this kind of list-making-thinking.
The examples are endless. I've made a list
of possible courses of action to deal with a difficult person
at work. I've written a long letter of the ten most important
reasons I love my wife and gave it to her. I've made a list of
my top seven values (I made a list of twenty and then by the
process of elimination, got it down to the seven most important).
"We make lists so we will not forget
what is important," says George Roche, president of Hillsdale
if we chronically forget items like milk
and bread unless we make a grocery list
isn't it also likely
that we will forget items like virtue and compassion unless we
make a character list
The principle has wide application. How
about the ten most important things you want to teach your kids
before they turn eighteen? How about putting that one in order
and working on your top three?
The principle is: Make a list. (Or make
a list and put it in order.) There are many ways to use
this principle to enhance your life. Why don't you try it right
now? Get a piece of paper, write on it, "How can I use this
principle to improve my life?" Write numbers one through
ten and force yourself to fill in all ten with an answer. Pick
the best one and try it.
Make a list.