Magic of Action Lists

Piles of sticky notes, several different pads of paper and notebooks – keeping track of everything you have to do can be hard. Just ask Kathy Alexander, Director of the Addison Northeast Food Service Cooperative. Kathy and her staff produce healthy, wholesome meals for students at 6 schools. And come fall, they’ll be adding 4 more.

Any time is a good time to get organized. But a GREAT time to get organized is when you’re on the verge of nearly doubling in size. As part of an overall strategy to improve productivity, folks at the ANFSC are working this summer to streamline systems, and that includes keeping track of tasks by using lists effectively.

Why do lists work so well? One reason is because when you capture your intentions on a single page you gain clarity: finally, it’s all there in front of you. But there are two other reasons why list-making helps you get more done and feel better at the same time. First, using a list frees up working memory. This means that not only do you feel better because your list helps you remember what you have to do, you actually THINK better in the meantime because your brain isn’t overwhelmed. This think/feel better experience is further strengthened if you deliberately start every item on your list with an action verb. Articulating what you have to do with a verb produces positive neurotransmitters (making you feel better) and directs blood to the pre-frontal cortex, priming you to think more effectively.

Using verbs to start each item on your list will also make it easier for you to see patterns of tasks that you need to schedule time for, and will make it easier to pluck items from the list when you get an unexpected free moment and want to get a few things done quickly. Last but not least, the clearer you are at articulating the action verb, the easier it will be to see what can be delegated.

Give it a try. And let me know how you feel and how you perform once you’ve transformed all those sticky notes and loose scraps of paper into a working action list.

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