The Remarkable Power of Lists

I have a confession to make. I'm a list person.

I can't resist the subtle seduction of bullet points and numbered priorities. There's something satisfying about charting a course one step at a time and tracking progress with check marks and scribbles. I've tried project management software and organizational apps. But, in spite of my usual technology addiction, when it comes to lists I'm old school. I like a good sticky note. Somehow the world changes when pencil meets paper and dreams get drawn up on the back of a napkin.

Have you ever stopped to consider the remarkable power of lists?

With nothing more than a noble idea, ink and a pen 56 men sign their name to the Declaration of Independence and a list that forms the foundation of a nation is born. All men are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights among which are:

  • Life
  • Liberty
  • The Pursuit of Happiness

McDonald's used a list to train employees, guarantee customer satisfaction and even market the recipe for the Big Mac:

  • Two all beef patties
  • Special sauce
  • Lettuce
  • Cheese
  • Pickels
  • Onions
  • On a sesame seed bun

Even superheros understand the remarkable power of a good list. Superman fights for:

  • Truth
  • Justice
  • And the American Way

Lists define religion - think, 10 Commandments. Lists communicate vision - think, talking points for any presidential candidate. Lists give us a tool to educate people, encourage growth and evaluate performance. Lists set the standard, redefine the standard and make the standard something everyone can remember and repeat.

A good list is a powerful thing.

There are three basic kinds of lists:

  1. FIXED
  3. FLUID

FIXED LISTS represent those values, processes or procedures that are unlikely to change with culture or circumstances. The 10 Commandments are a good example. Whether you were born in Egypt in 640 B.C., Europe in the 13th Century A.D. or yesterday in Normal, Illinois, 'Don't murder' is a good life principle to have on your list. Fixed lists are often written in stone.

FLEXIBLE LISTS are project, people and purpose based. Expressed through the values found on fixed lists, flexible lists chart the course, set the speed, identify success and illuminate failure. These lists change with time and culture but will always reflect the vision and values of the person or organization. Flexible lists are often written on paper.

FLUID LISTS get us through today. This is your call sheet, email replies, and the calendar of scheduled meetings. Fluid lists change daily, hourly, or even up to the minute. They adjust to the needs of the moment. They help us manage the tyranny of the urgent and maneuver us into position to swiftly and efficiently keep moving forward. Flexible lists are often never written down at all. Getting them written can improve your flexible and refocus your fixed lists.

Here's a list of the most important lists you need in your life.

  • Core Values - [fixed] What are the defining characteristics of you and/or your organization. What are the non-negotiable, built-in-to-the-DNA, character traits of who you are?
  • Current Projects - [flexible] Core Values define who you are. Current Projects define what you do. If you're current projects don't line up with your core values it's time to make a new list.
  • Future Projects - [fluid] This could be problems to solve, markets to open, processes to refine, people to train or products to develop. This starts as a brainstorm that you refine into something more.
  • Policies & Procedures - [flexible] Mind-numbing? Yes. Necessary? Absolutely. Policies and procedures for your organization don't have to be the red tape that prevents progress. They can be tools for training employees and insuring quality control. These kinds of lists makes it possible to replicate success in minor, but significant tasks. It allows you to scale production and insure every Chick-fil-A sandwich is equally tastey.
  • Stop Doing - [fluid] There are important things you need to avoid. There are decisions you should let someone else make. There are problems other people should solve. You've got unnecessary flotsam and jetsam on your todo lists that need to go away. Create a stop doing list and focus on what matters most.
  • ADD YOUR LIST HERE - what lists do you find most critical? Use the comments section to list your lists and encourage someone else!

Never underestimate the power of a well thought out list.

Leadership is more than lists. Effectively managing people requires more than a piece of paper and a good idea. However, a well written well used list can be the tool that brings vision to life, makes your mission memorable, equips employees and volunteers for success and allows you to define success along the way. Lists matter.

Don't fear the list. Master it and discover the remarkable power contained within.


  1. Are you a list person?
  2. What's the most important thing on your to do list today?
  3. Do your employees, coworkers, or boss know what's on your 'list'?
  4. How do your lists line up with or contradict the mission and method's of your business, coworkers, employees or boss?
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