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How List Making Helps with Work/Life Integration

“I make lists to keep my anxiety level down. If I write down 15 things to be done, I lose that vague, nagging sense that there are an overwhelming number of things to be done, all of which are on the brink of being forgotten.” - Mary Roach

Are you a list maker? In November, I shared a Boomer Bulletin article detailing how my journey towards work/life integration continues to evolve. One of my challenges was separating my work life from my home life while working from home. Having the option to work from remotely is an important aspect of work/life integration for many people. It certainly has been helpful to me over the last couple months, but it has also presented a few challenges.

Personally, I have trouble turning off work when I’m done working. This is true even when I work in the office since I bring my laptop home every night. But it’s especially true when I work from home. I’ve found myself opening up my laptop many evenings when I had an idea or thought about something that didn’t get done during the day. As a result, I rarely felt “refreshed and recharged,” since my mind was constantly on work. I also struggled to be fully present in my home life, when work kept creeping in after hours. How have I learned to switch off?

I depend on lists

I’ve always been a list-maker, so this comes quite naturally to me. Instead of opening up my laptop to “just do one last thing” in the evening, I make lists. When I get an idea or remember something I need to do, instead of doing it in the evenings, I jot it down.

Writing for Psychology Today, Carrie Barron MD shared six benefits of making lists:

  1. Provide a positive psychological process whereby questions and confusions can be worked through. True purposes surface.

  2. Foster a capacity to select and prioritize. This is useful for an information-overloaded situation.

  3. Separate minutia from what matters, which is good for identity as well as achievement.

  4. Help determine the steps needed. That which resonates informs direction and plan.

  5. Combats avoidance. Taking abstract to concrete sets the stage for commitment and action.

  6. Organize and contain a sense of inner chaos, which can make your load feel more manageable.

I’ve definitely found that making lists of things I want to accomplish the next day helps me get thoughts of work out of my mind, allowing me to be present at home.

Lists might be essential for “turning off” work

Non list-makers laugh at list-lovers. Do we spend more time making lists than accomplishing work? Do we right down completed tasks just to get the satisfaction of crossing something off the list? Well, maybe. But I’m not the only one who recognizes their value in leaving work at work.

In 2015, Brandon Smit, a researcher on work/family conflict at Ball State University in Indiana found that the simple process of making a list of unfinished business at the end of the day helps turn off the lingering work thoughts that tend to follow us home.

I will still struggle with work/life integration. Nobody is perfect and as soon as we find the perfect recipe for success – if it exists – things are bound to change and require adjustments. But list-making can be a powerful tool for achieving that elusive ideal.