I am kind of an obsessive list-keeper and note-taker. Back when I had a Palm Pilot, it was filled with ’em; now that I’m on Android I’m still happily using the program B-Folders to keep track of my myriad lists. Am I crazy? Sure. (All the best people are.) But I sometimes really marvel at how useful my odd little lists are, so I thought we’d discuss — are you guys fond of lists? Have you found that certain “weird” lists you make are really helpful from an organizing/productivity standpoint, either for life or work?
For my own $.02, here are some of the weirder lists I keep that I’ve found to be ridiculously useful (and how I use ’em):
- “Health” lists / diaries. I’ve kept track of every cold I’ve ever had since about 2000 — symptoms, duration, treatment. It was through this list that I realized that I seemed to have the same “cold” every spring — and switched to OTC allergy treatments instead. I also have a habit of starting a specific health diary as soon as something weird starts happening. For example, a few years ago I started experiencing vertigo a lot, so I started keeping track of anything that I thought might have be a cause — my diet, my sleep, my stress, my exercise, etc. The problem kind of disappeared on its own, but if it ever comes back I can always go back to the list and see if there are any common denominators. I have a similar list called “headaches of note,” and when I suffered from canker sores I kept a list for that too. (They just kind of went away on their own!) (2019 Update: See Kat’s health chart here!)
- Ingredients in my kitchen. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not great at cooking. But over the years I’ve attempted enough recipes that I’ve collected a ridiculous number of uncommon-for-me ingredients in the kitchen, from achiote seeds to oyster sauce. So I keep a list of which ingredients I have, when I bought them, and when the marked expiration date is. That way, when I decide at the last minute that I want to try a new recipe, I don’t have to go rifling around in my kitchen to figure out what we might have — I can just check the list. It also prevents me from saying, “don’t worry, we JUST BOUGHT white pepper!” and then realizing that it expired in 2008.
- Notes on diets / grocery lists. Lately, I’ve just been trying to eat whole foods as often as possible, but I have been known to flirt with food-restrictive diets from time to time (I did Atkins in law school and then in short spurts for a few years thereafter… then South Beach some time after that… and then for about six weeks last year I did Slow Carb, and may try it again soon). There are a lot of similarities between the diets (hint: no bread) but a lot of differences too, and since I’ve done all of them I tend to get really confused. Are beans allowed? Nuts? Only low-fat cheeses? Only high fat cheeses but in small quantities? So I just keep a simple list of which foods are allowed and which aren’t and then I don’t have to wonder. When I was really keen on Weight Watchers I kept notes on which meals I might order at different chain restaurants, with the Points info for both the low calorie options as well as my more “regular,” higher calorie meals, and I religiously did check those lists every time I visited my family in Ohio.
- Summer dinners / menus. It always seems to come as a surprise to me when it gets to be hot and disgustingly humid in NYC (YUCK), and it also always surprises me how much I hate to stand over a hot stove or be around a hot oven when it turns disgusting outside. So I keep a list of quick/easy summer meals that we enjoy that don’t involve the oven. (These aren’t particularly healthy or interesting meals — “bread and cheese” makes the list — but at least I don’t have to rediscover the wheel every summer.) Similarly, I keep lists of things like “2 week low carb meal plan” of things that I am always happy to eat for at least the first two weeks and help me kick off one of my low carb phases.
- Money spent on trips. We don’t vacation often, but it always comes as a surprise to me how much airfare/hotels/everything else costs. So I keep a list of what we paid on various things for previous vacations — that way I can consult my memory and current prices and decide if we’re getting a good deal on something. I similarly keep a list of prices we’ve paid for different furniture pieces — it helps me gauge how much a new piece is “worth” compared to an older piece, and it also helps assuage whatever guilt I may feel about replacing furniture pieces. (“Well, we paid $200 and have used it for ten years, so I don’t think we should feel too bad about just donating it.”)
Oh, and I don’t keep this in my phone/B-Folders system, but I did recently start keeping a Excel spreadsheet of yearly health numbers, inspired by a Real Simple article. I went back and looked at the data I’d kept from previous doctor’s appointments (I have a tendency to scan blood test results into my computer) and filled out what information I had for myself, with a separate spreadsheet for my husband and son. I may not understand the majority of the numbers or what they mean, but it gives me the ability to note a trend. For example, my triglycerides readings are still really low (according to the Real Simple article they should be below 150), but I can go back to my notes and say, “Ah, my reading was 43 in 2000, then 59 in 2004, then 69 in 2010, and 79 in 2011. I should bring that up the next time I’m at the doctor’s.” I’ve also started keep an Excel spreadsheet of notes on different sizes/brands/styles that I’ve tried — I tend to return about 80% of what I buy online, so I can never remember if I liked a particular item or not, and if I did what size I was in it (particularly with shoes and bras!).
Readers, do you keep lists? Do you have any that are surprisingly helpful?