Category Archives: be positive

Organization vs Passion: List the benefits

hamster in a metal hamster wheel

CC image “Hamster wheel” courtesy of sualk61 on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

I’ve been thinking a lot about lists lately, because my life seems to be filled with them.

I have to-do lists for the day, the week, the month. Shopping lists, story brainstorming lists, lists of essay ideas, speech ideas, blog post ideas, blog improvements, lists of birthdays, of appointments, packing lists, lists of items I need to repair on my car, lists of my student loans, and so on.

Sometimes I think the lists are a blessing. The most obvious benefit is an increased level of organization, coupled with a sense of control over my life. Often, though, I feel trapped by my lists. Like a hamster on a wheel, I am running, running… and seem never to be getting anywhere. My life has become a list — a list which taunts me like Sisyphus’s stone.

Let’s get organized!

The number one advantage to creating a list is organization. Organization is a big watchword nowadays. We all lead such busy lives, there’s not enough time in the day to accomplish everything. From pundits to parents, advice columns to job postings, organization is acknowledged as a universal good.

Consider the daily to-do list. A simple and effective maneuver, scribbling a to-do list takes only a few minutes, and serves as a reminder throughout the day. When we get side-tracked by unexpected events or need to prioritize, the to-do list is our friend. Groceries versus Pilates class? Vision statement or agenda prep for afternoon teleconference? Following up with Sue or Sam? Remembering what the heck was that important deadline this week?

Did you know that lists are good news for our health, too? Creating lists can help:

  • reduce anxiety by giving us a sense of control over what we need to get done
  • boost our brain power by using parts of our brain we otherwise may neglect
  • improve focus by keeping our immediate goal in front of us
  • increase self-esteem through the sense of accomplishment we get by crossing items off our list
  • organize our thoughts, such as when we are faced with a tough or complex decision

Health, stress reduction, meeting deadlines, and getting all the items we need from the grocery store. Who could possibly object to the clear beneficence of the lowly and workmanlike list!

Where’s the fire?

To-do lists, grocery lists, packing lists — all of these have immediate, obvious utility. They’re not very romantic, though. Then there is our least favorite list ever (at least according to pop culture): the New Year’s Resolutions (if you’re feeling adventurous enough that you have more than one resolution, of course. I am guilty of this. I am an overachiever. Scorn me). We start this list with grand plans and fanfare. We feel bigger than life. Bring on the world!

Yet how often do we actually complete that list? Maybe we’d be more accurate calling New Year’s Resolutions our “New Year’s Ideas & Suggestions Box.” Drop in the slip of paper with your idea. As time goes by, those little slips of paper become less interesting, even, perhaps, accusatory.

Making a list — for New Year’s or otherwise — can become a stand-in for doing what’s on the list. Too often, we start with a good intention, fall into a habit, and then just continue with it brainlessly. Making lists over and over can slowly drain us of our initial passion. When we began, we were excited by the subject, the work, the company, the project… One sheet of paper couldn’t contain all our ideas. Gradually, however, our vision has narrowed until we can’t see the horizon anymore for the slip of paper.

We’ve forgotten what got us started in the first place.

Regaining Control

Like any strategy designed to help us out, keeping a list can become a self-perpetuating monster. Whether our list is a fluffy Shih Tzu or a Great Dane, we need to remember who’s in charge. I’ll give you a hint: the boss should be the one holding the leash.

Lists are a tool. Like the alphabet. In order to write effectively, we need to know how to form the letters, how they sound, and the ways to arrange them to convey meaning. But the letters themselves aren’t the meaning — they are the vessel by which meaning is made clear. We write the letters, the letters don’t write us.

Don’t get trapped on the hamster wheel. Eventually, you will need to actually write that story, shoot those pictures, finish that telephone follow-up, pack that suitcase. If you find that you’re spending a lot more time on your list than your life, remember that the brain needs playtime, too. Play hooky. You may be surprised how inspired and enlivened you become as a result.

You might even have plenty more fodder to add to your lists!


Do you keep track of aspects of your life using lists? Do any of your lists pertain to your creative projects? Let us know here!

Stop and smell the goose poop

Or, finding appreciation in unexpected places

Sometimes it’s time to stop and step in the goose poop.

That’s what I did a couple of days ago.

Canadian geese on a meadow

“Geese” CC image courtesy of Martin Weller on Flickr. Noncommercial license.

I needed to get out of the house. There comes a point every day where I go stir crazy. Not mildly stir crazy. Not something that five minutes’ stroll around the block will cure. But mountain-climbing-sweating-like-a-buffalo-running-5K-with-no-warmup crazy.

By that point in the day — and it seems to arrive about the same time every day — I’ve been working on the computer for hours. It might be for a client or it might be my own writing… or I might’ve procrastinated all day on social media, compulsively following one interesting link to the next.

The onset is usually sudden. One moment, I’m hunched over the table, nose inches from the computer monitor — atrocious posture is a good sign that things need to change — the next, I’m literally pacing my apartment, fantasizing about sprinting through the city streets.

Then it dawns on me that I could solve everything if I just Got Outside.

Thus it is I found myself Outside at Sloan Lake in Northwest Denver last week. Like most Denver city parks I’ve seen, Sloan Lake has been appropriated by hordes of Canadian geese. And they’ve left many mementos of their presence.

Many Canadian geese in winter park

“Geese” CC image courtesy of Overduebook on Flickr. Attribution license.

The last time I remember seeing this many geese in one place was at the county park in New Jersey where my high school track team trained. A paved path made up the outside perimeter of the park, shaped like a sloppy figure eight. Inside each loop was a large grassy area. The inside of the south loop was essentially one big meadow, but the north loop featured a number of sports fields: the de facto soccer pitches, a baseball diamond and field, the throwing cage and field for discus and javelin, the 400 meter track. The geese came in large numbers in the winter, and then they seemed never to leave. Long before experts decided to reclassify the Canadian goose as a non-migratory bird, those of us on the track team were well aware of their sedentary ways.

So it is at Sloan Lake.

The circuit around the lake is a paved walkway. On either side of the walkway, winter-deadened grass an indeterminate color somewhere between yellow, beige, and brown spans the grounds of the park. It is the perfect color for goose poop camouflage.

Generally, I prefer running on unpaved surfaces because it’s nicer on the joints. However, the advantage to the walkway at Sloan Lake is that it’s possible to ascertain where the goose poop is, and whether or not you are stepping in it. Usually you are… the walkway is a veritable minefield. But it’s where I started, in a vain effort to keep the bottoms of my shoes poop-free.

The area around the lake affords park visitors a clear view to the Rocky Mountains. In between dodging little green-brown-yellow minefields, I noticed that clouds were spreading in a bank above the peaks, although the rest of the sky was cloudless. The sun was low, first behind the clouds and then dipping behind the mountains, which became mere silhouettes. I kept losing my pace because I had to turn my head and look. The light was transparent and yet gold at the same time, and the frozen lake was very blue. Some geese had settled on an open stretch of water to the west, and they looked serene, even appropriate.

As I completed my circuit on the eastern shore, I looked back across the snowy landscape to the dusk coming down from the mountains. The clouds separated two identical color sequences above the tops of the highest peaks: mountains, gold, pink, blue; clouds, gold, pink, blue.

A cacophony of honking and the squeak of wings behind me heralded a flyover. I turned and ducked, afraid that at least one of them would go potty as they passed overhead. Instead, they flew past me without incident and curved out over the lake, in a long line from north to south, easily more than 50 birds together. They became a dark band against the bluing western sky as they went, an eyebrow between the lake and the clouds. The honking and creaking faded, and I was left with a feeling of joy in their passing, their being there at that moment, the way they graced the sky — truly in their element.

That was worth stepping in some goose poop.

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Do you ever feel a sudden need to change your surroundings?  What unexpected beautiful things did you discover as you went?