Listful Thinking

"What do Madonna, Martha Stewart, Richard Branson, John Lennon, Ellen DeGeneres, Ben Franklin, Ronald Reagan, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Edison, and Johnny Cash have in common? Each is or was a list maker. These successful people, along with many CEOs and busy entrepreneurs, all use lists to keep track of their ideas, thoughts, and tasks."

- Listful Thinking, page 1

Paula Rizzo, an award-winning senior health producer at, learned to be organized at work but didn’t think to use these same skills in her personal life until her husband and she were apartment hunting in NYC. The “hunt” wasn’t going well and she couldn’t remember what she had seen or liked from apartment to apartment. This prompted her to create a checklist to use when walking through an apartment, which not only helped her find an apartment she loved, but that she then loaned to a friend and her realtor and led to her starting This book—Listful Thinking: Using Lists to be More Productive, Highly Successful, and Less Stressed—brings together some of her best tips and tricks.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Lists as Roadmaps

"The simplest purpose of a list is to aid you to remember what you need to do or to pick up from the grocery store. But more importantly, it should serve as a roadmap and a place from which to springboard your actions."
- Listful Thinking, page 21

The act of making a list will reduce your stress, help you focus, be present, and accomplish more. Whether you use pen and paper or one of the many apps available today, by jotting things down as they come to you, you won’t need to worry about forgetting them. And since we have limited mental bandwidth, this will free you up to actually do more.

And just like there are many ways to keep lists, there are many types of lists: from the simple to-do or grocery list, to the more complicated project or bucket list. You can even have a pro-con list (check out, a life list (, or even a gratitude list. What all these lists have in common is that they help you accomplish your goals: the act of writing things down helps you be more accountable and plan for what is needed. And as Paula mentions, there is an inherent satisfaction in crossing things off a list that is hard to beat.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Make Different Lists

"Keeping everything you’ve ever wanted to accomplish in every area of your life on one list is a huge mistake. Make a different list for each project you work on so you don’t feel overwhelmed or confuse tasks."
- Listful Thinking, page 46

Paula recommends keeping work and personal lists separate and even has separate notebooks for each. She also suggests that one can have a “master list” and then pull-out shorter lists of items that you can accomplish in the immediate future, and perhaps keep those on Post-it notes, which are ideal for shorter lists.

Personally I have found this to be very true. Although I use Outlook tasks, flags, and meetings to help me keep track of work to-dos, one of my favorite list apps is Cozi, which Paula mentions in her digital chapter. Basically, allows you to sign-up for a free family account, and you can then share grocery, to-do, and other lists (and a calendar) with your family. It also has a useful mobile app so that you can access the updated grocery list while at the store.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Be Realistic

"What can you really accomplish in the time you have available? Determining how long a task actually takes will save you time and again."
- Listful Thinking, page 70

To actually accomplish what you’ve spelled-out in your lists requires more than just getting it down on paper or digitally—it requires that you be realistic about how long each task will take. Paula describes how she plans out each work day the previous evening, so that she can hit the ground running in the morning. Not only does she list everything she needs to do, but she also lists the time allotted to each task to ensure that she has enough time to accomplish them all.

And this ties back to the previous point about keeping separate lists. It may be tempting to just throw everything into one list, but that won’t help you get through much of it. Instead, review, prioritize, and categorize that master list into separate shorter lists. If the shorter lists are for a given time period, be realistic as to how long each task will take and how much you can accomplish in that given time—and build-in breaks and rewards. Paula likes the Pomodoro Technique, which encourages scheduling tasks in the very manageable interval of 25 minutes.

Whether you’re already an organized person or one who can’t seem to get enough done, Paula will have some trick or tip that you can apply. From all the various types of lists and their benefits, to how to best create and apply them, to the many apps and digital tools available today, this book has something for everyone. She even has a chapter on how to outsource tasks that are not in your best interest to do and has a list (obviously) of the many websites that can help with this.

And since there is no one right way to make lists, the book will give you plenty of ideas to experiment with until you figure out what helps you be the most productive and least stressed version of yourself.

“Just start listing,” Paula advises. “It’s always hardest to get started.”

What’s your favorite type of list and where do you keep it?

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Karina Mikhli

ABOUT Karina Mikhli

Although I've spent most of my career on the operations side of publishing, an industry I'm still fortunate to be working in, I've also been a teacher and personal trainer in what feels like previous lives...
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