Lists are a great short term management tool. They seem to belong to the old advice, never put off until tomorrow what can be done today. When you are as busy as you are, you need to minimise the burden of trying to remember stuff. Lists help bear the cognitive burden of remembering the things you want to get done; great!
But actually I also like to consider the advice of Oscar Wilde and General Franco which seem to fly against this Carpe Diem advice. Oscar Wilde’s attitude to life’s tasks was the opposite of the old advice. He said "Never do today what can be put off until tomorrow". This really isn’t as nonsensical as it might sound if you consider it an appeal to prioritise the things that you choose today. Lists can help with that. So do make your list, and then prioritise. The first thing on the list doesn’t need to be the first thing to be done. Use numbers to prioritise after you have written the list.
And General Franco? He apparently had two trays on his desk; one that said ‘Problems that time will solve’ and another that said ‘Problems that time has solved’. He took great pleasure in moving files from one tray to the other, as it became appropriate*. This is analogous to ticking things off your list as you achieve them – except you haven’t achieved them. You’ve deliberately held back from taking action; you’ve decided to see what others will do; you’ve decided that it’s not a priority; you’re at a loss to know what to do; it’s a damnable mess of emails that you’d rather not get embroiled in – there are lots of reasons that you might put something off. The key thing here is that you do it consciously, like the Generalissimo, rather than passively just letting it happen day after day as you fail to get a grip. You must make a conscious decision to see how something will play out – let others get over excited, especially when it’s about something that is urgent but trivial. If you are stressed and tend towards taking responsibility for things that are on the edges of your remit, you might want to consider this form of prioritisation. Indeed, if the mere idea of it causes you to feel stressed, then you probably need to give it a try. Make your list and decided which items you really should step-back from. Check it again after a time and either cross it off or re-prioritise.
*From Polly Evans (1998). It’s not about the tapas. A Spanish adventure on two wheels. Bantam Books. 2003.
I don’t normally take advice from dictators and this technique is not an excuse for failing to take responsibility for things which are your responsibility.