Rogue Ink

April 17, 2008

The Stupid Tool You Never Use Because You Think It’s Stupid

Filed under: Copywriting,Entrepreneurship,Writing — Tei @ 5:30 am
Tags: , ,

Which it is. This is irrelevant. The fact is, it works.


Yes, yes, I know. Me too. I don’t care. It works, damn it all to Candyland. Here’s how the list thing works for me.


This is all about to sound stupendously stupid, like ‘Firefox for Dummies’ level stupid, when the ghostwriter in question doesn’t realize they’re not actually writing for dummies, just for people who missed class the day they explained the Internets. However: if I do not write down all the stupid steps, you will miss a critical one, and then you will look at me going, “Told you the stupid list thing doesn’t work, stupid. Stupid stupidhead.” And then I will cry.

My list today went a little something like this:

– Finish script for PowerPoint presentation (this is not my PowerPoint. I don’t use PowerPoints. Other people do, though, and they hire me to write them. This wasn’t on the list, I’m just explaining. Carry on.)
– Make PowerPoint slides
– Invoice MA (company who ordered the PowerPoint)
– Write blog post
– Write second draft of magazine story
– Pay parking ticket
– Do laundry
– Do dishes
– Write in journal
– Get groceries

And so forth. Here’s the key, the secret they don’t tell you in all those other list-advocating sites: all the stuff on your list does not have to be related to work. It is, in fact, best for me if about half of it does NOT have anything to do with work. Here’s what happens in my brain when my list is entirely work-related.

“Man, I don’t want to do anything on this list. Stupid list. I hate lists. Why do they tell me to make lists? Screw the list. I wonder what’s on YouTube.”

My brain when non-work-related items are on my list:

“Man, I really don’t want to start that project. What else is there? Ooh, grocery shopping. I can listen to Nickel Creek while grocery shopping. I could buy ice cream. I’ll do that instead.”

Now, I know that the second scenario still does not involve you actually doing work. But that is a given in a procrastinator’s mind. There’s something psychological that kicks in, though, when most of your list is wiped out, and it starts to look like this.

– Finish script for PowerPoint presentation
– Make PowerPoint slides
– Invoice MA
– Write blog post
– Write second draft of magazine story
– Pay parking ticket
– Do laundry
– Do dishes
– Write in journal
– Get groceries

Now you start looking at this list and saying, huh. Half of this is done. If I finish one more thing, MORE than half of my list will be done. That would make me supremely cool, with a list half crossed out like that. They would build shrines in honor of my Supreme Coolness. Maybe I’ll get a crown. Ooh, and a cape. I want a cape.

So then you write a blog post.

One Major Caveat


Seriously. Do not include, “Take a shower.” Or “eat breakfast.” You can include “Take a run” if you are not one of those running freaks who just gets off on the very idea of lacing up their tennies. All of the stuff on this list must be a little distasteful. Because then, even when you’re procrastinating work, you are sneakily NOT procrastinating chores. You are tricking your procrastinating mind. For the deviousness is many-layered here in Rogueville. Sometimes we even stealth-attack ourselves.

Guess what I’m doing now? Crossing one more thing off my list. Finish blog post. And then I’m going to finish the PowerPoint. Because an entirely crossed out list is supremely awesome to the tenth power.

For people who give actual sound advice on list-making, check out Zen Habits and Put Things Off.



  1. I’m a huge list maker, so I definitely know what you mean about feeling great when the entire list is crossed off!

    Comment by Allison — April 17, 2008 @ 5:58 am | Reply

  2. This is exactly how I’ve been living for the past couple of years, and it is liberating. It is the only way I can get my mind clear, so that I can think about stuff that is important to me. And actually get some of the stuff that is on the list, off of the list.

    Ice cream is almost always on the list. :

    Comment by Brett Legree — April 17, 2008 @ 9:49 am | Reply

  3. I try not to disagree in blog comments because, as everybody knows, blog comments are for sucking up and getting blog traffic. This post ruled. I will only add one alternative:

    On very bad days, I will put things that I want to do but also have to do on my list for purely psychological reasons. I will definitely put “take a shower” because when all I want to do is burn my list and eat Cheetos, I get the (entirely fake) sense of accomplishment that comes with checking something off the list. Sometimes that’s all it takes. At the same time, I try to make nice things take up no more than 10-20% of list contents. It can’t all be Cheetos and showers. 🙂

    Hurray for lists!

    Comment by Naomi Dunford — April 17, 2008 @ 2:59 pm | Reply

  4. Allison: I know. It’s a mini-orgasm in a pen.

    Brett: Ice cream RULES. We have a local creamery here that makes cinnamon ice that actually tastes of spice, like, almost makes you sneeze. AMAZING.

    Naomi: It’s totally true, I do this too. I decided I shouldn’t do it anymore, because my lists were starting to get full of them. Like “organize pens.” Ooh, how delightful. “Make a sandwich.” Yummy!

    But yeah, crossing the item off is intensely satisfying.

    Comment by Tei — April 17, 2008 @ 3:06 pm | Reply

  5. Great post! I love lists – when I remember to look at them.

    Comment by Rete — April 17, 2008 @ 3:18 pm | Reply

  6. I love your list tips! It is SO true that work only lists are simply depressing! I am a list geek…so I love writing lists, reading about lists, you get the idea… 🙂

    Comment by Sandie — April 17, 2008 @ 5:02 pm | Reply

  7. I am such a dork, I will put things that I am already doing (or almost finished with) that I had previously forgotten to add to my list just so I can have the pleasure of crossing them off. Plus it makes me look like I got a lot more done.

    Comment by Alisha — April 17, 2008 @ 5:14 pm | Reply

  8. Oh, heavens. You should have seen the icky chores I completed when it was time to work on the dreaded taxes. Please, anything but that! Even pumping our flooded basement was more fun.

    Comment by Sally J. (The Practical Archivist) — April 17, 2008 @ 6:28 pm | Reply

  9. I don’t make lists, but my wife is a big lister. Actually, she’s a Post-It note list maker – yellow squares everywhere.

    I drew the line at the car. She started putting Post-It notes on the dash and then some right over the speedometer. We had a Talk.. no more notes in the car.

    Also no notes on computer screens, but that Talk was a long time back. Other than that, they are everywhere: fridge, mirrors, all over the kitchen counter.. I just counted 23 and I probably missed some.

    The fun part is when she calls from the road: “I forget my Hannaford list. Can you read it to me?”

    Sure. But where is it?

    “It’s on a sticky on the counter.”

    Yeah, with a dozen of its brothers, sisters and cousins.. good luck finding that in a hurry.

    Comment by Tony Lawrence — April 17, 2008 @ 6:50 pm | Reply

  10. The only lists I do are shopping lists. Other than that, I sometimes jot down notes on projects I’m working on. I do find my tape recorders is good in the car (if I can remember the damn thing).

    For some reason I keep everything in my head, and the important stuff is stuck on the calendar on the fridge – like when I need to pay the mortgage.

    @Tony Lawrence – I can relate to your wife. Sticky notes are great.

    Comment by Ellen Wilson — April 17, 2008 @ 7:05 pm | Reply

  11. Rete: Minor detail. It helps when it sits on your desk or wherever you work.

    Sandie: You list nerd, you.

    Alisha: I totally do this. I think I just did it, in fact.

    Sally: For me it was cleaning the toilet.

    Tony: Sticky notes? That would drive me mad. They fall off! And you can never find the one you’re looking for.

    Ellen: Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Ellen, who can keep things in her head. Please don’t hurt her, she seems like a lovely person.

    Comment by Tei — April 17, 2008 @ 8:17 pm | Reply

  12. Hey! If you don’t keep things in your head, where do they go? This is a deep question.

    Also, please, um, can you please do some little thing, about, um, er, Firefox? You know how I am. I like tutorials. Thank you very much.

    Your Friend,

    Ellen, the listless

    Comment by Ellen Wilson — April 17, 2008 @ 11:34 pm | Reply

  13. Tei, I loved the post. Today I actually wrote a list and then I typed it on Todoist crossing off each item on my written list after I transferred it. Crazy, I know but somehow motivating! Okay yes I was procrastinating but I made a list and eventually I even did some things on it and checked it off on my printed todoist list. 🙂

    Comment by Karen Swim — April 18, 2008 @ 12:06 am | Reply

  14. Ellen: I am deeply flattered that you think I know anything at all about Firefox, other than where the button to open it is located on my computer. That said, if you tell me WHAT you want to know about Firefox, I will investigate with a vengeance. What can’t you do? What do you need to do? I’m all OVER it.

    Karen: I just crossed the big item off my to-do list. SO satisfying. Especially because the next item was invoicing for the big item, which, let me tell you, happened right quick.

    Comment by Tei — April 18, 2008 @ 12:39 am | Reply

  15. I like lists and post-its. I use post-its as an ‘accountability’ thing. I jot down all the page numbers I have to get done that day (drawing storyboards) and I cross them off as I get through them. I need to SEE it getting done or else the day flitters away on procrastination…kinda like what I’m doing now. 🙂 Back to work!

    Lists = good.

    Comment by Karen JL — April 18, 2008 @ 12:59 am | Reply

  16. I am a major advocate for list making. I honestly cannot get anything done without one. It’s a psychological thing, I swear. Visualizing what I need to get done without one is very difficult for me. And the wonderful high that you get when you cross an item off? Amazing.

    By the way, I’ve been reading for about a week now and just wanted to let you know that I think you are doing a wonderful job. 🙂 I’m really glad that I subscribed here. Keep the great posts coming!

    Comment by Katherine — April 18, 2008 @ 3:43 am | Reply

  17. @Ellen the Listless

    I’m listless too – prefer to keep everything in my head because so far I have never lost that (unlike expensive PDA’s and such that I did lose).

    Firefox Tutorials?

    Comment by Tony Lawrence — April 18, 2008 @ 12:18 pm | Reply

  18. I my opinion, the terminal list items are also a NO to listmaking. It just a nasty way to nag yourself. For example, my list (which is always mental and often written) has said “lose 25 pounds” for three months. This is BAD. Because the wonderful feeling (I surmise) of crossing that ubiquitous item off the list is nothing compared to the daily reminder of how sitting in an office chair for 9 hours and having two crazy babies makes that impossible. Further, the only crossing I’ve done is to replace the 25 with a 30. Things like do 25 situps, or do kegels instead of eating Sharffen Burger while you read Tei’s blog are “cross-off-able” and therefore infinitely more useful.

    Comment by The Monsters' Mama — April 18, 2008 @ 4:55 pm | Reply

  19. Lists literally save my life on a daily basis. If I don’t write it down, chances are it won’t get done –I’ll either forget about it or do something else instead. Because I’m usually balancing 4-5 writing projects at the same time (usually all with the same deadline), making a list keeps me from going crazy trying to remember it all.

    Comment by Diana — April 21, 2008 @ 6:31 am | Reply

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