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Beyond "To-Do": 5 Lists That Can Change Your Life

Beyond "To-Do": 5 Lists That Can Change Your Life

I am a huge fan of lists. I truly believe they can change your life. I’m not referring to your garden variety to-do list, though I like those, too.

Lists are so much more than mere productivity tools. In fact, I’d argue that getting organized and being productive are just the tip of the iceberg. A good list can clarify our thinking, identify what drives us, and help us learn to love ourselves just as we are.

[Related: Quotes to Motivate You to Succeed]

Here are 5 lists I use to help me live a calmer, happier, more purposeful life. For extra fun, all examples are taken from actual lists I’ve written.

1. The worry list.

The worry list as simple as it is helpful. Basically, sit down and spend 5 to 10 minutes writing out every worry you can think of.

Example: I’m worried my role change [at work] will turn into a demotion.

I find that my first few worries tend to be very surface-level and specific, but eventually, they grow deeper and more abstract. Through worry lists, I’ve learned that my health anxiety is actually rooted in the fear of being alone and in despair, and that my financial anxiety is rooted in the fear of being miserable and unfulfilled. Pretty deep stuff.

[Related: Strategies for Reducing Work Stress: Using Our Natural Abilities to Combat Anxiety]

2. The acknowledgements list.

I learned about this one from a former boss’s executive coach and loved it instantly. At the end of every day, write down 3 to 5 things you did well that day and the outcome associated with it. Start with the words, “I acknowledge myself for <insert awesome thing and outcome here>.”

Example: I acknowledge myself for writing a proposal that [our client] accepted for the case study video.

Try it for a week. You’ll be amazed at how awesome and capable you actually are.

3. The “What do I really want?” list.

This list is always a good way to clarify the sort of life you want to live, but it’s particularly helpful in times of change, like a big move or a job loss. As with the worry list, try to move beyond specifics and think really deeply about not just what you want to do, but how you want to live.

Example: I want to have room in my life for creativity and leisure.

This list has helped me realize, for example, that leading a certain lifestyle   — one with the ability to work from home and that leaves plenty of room for travel, leisure time and creativity   — is more important to me than absolutely loving the paid work that I do. I’m working on building a life that allows for all those things, but if I had to choose between the former and the latter, I’d choose the former every time.

4. The “Terrible things that didn’t happen to me today” list.

I use this list when I need a dose of perspective about how bad my life really isn’t. You can get as creative or mundane as you like, but it’s surprisingly easy and even fun to come up with all the terrible things that could have happened to you but didn’t.

Example: Today, I did not get eaten by a pack of wild dogs.

I actually wrote those words after one particularly terrible day. And you know what? They helped a lot.

5. The one-line list.

I guess I snuck in one type of list that helps with productivity and organization, but this list is so much more than that. Every morning, I try to ask myself, “What is the one thing I need to do today in order to move myself forward?” That becomes my one-line list. As long as I accomplish that one thing, I know I’ve taken an important step toward whatever goal I’m working on.

Example: Write and publish a new blog article on Ellevate.

Boom. Today = success. I love this list because it forces you to be fearless, even ruthless, about what’s most important to you, and gives you no excuse not to do it.

[Related: Teach Your Mind to Shift from Procrastination to Action]

I’ve found all of these lists tremendously helpful and use them regularly to check in with myself about my priorities, my chosen path, and what’s most important to me right now. They really have changed my life for the better. I hope they’re just as helpful for you.

Robin Cangie is a Career Coach and Personal Branding Strategist. She uses Socratic questioning, nonjudgmental curiosity, and loving inquiry to help clients let go of self-limiting beliefs and build careers that align with their most important values. Her approach integrates 10+ years of experience in executive leadership, people management, marketing, and startups. Contact her directly at or learn more at

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