10 Useful Lists to Keep in Your Commonplace Book

Lists can be liberating. Umberto Eco, novelist and philosopher, boldly described lists as “the origin of culture.” I learned this from Maria Popova, creator of the immensely popular Brain Pickings and a herself a great lover of lists.

One timeless use of a commonplace book is to curate the lists that you find most useful. The possibilities are limitless. Following is a list of lists for you to consider.

  1. Current projects

What’s “on your plate” right now? It’s hard to answer that question unless you have a list of the projects that you’re committed to finish in the near future.

David Allen, author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, defines a project as any outcome that will take you more than one action to achieve. One of the core activities in his Getting Things Done (GTD) method is keeping an updated list of your current projects.

When you do this, be prepared for surprise. You might have more projects underway than you can possibly complete this year. To save your sanity, delete or defer some of them.

  1. Next actions

This is another list from David. (Actually, the first 5 items in this post are all GTD ideas.) A next action is something you can do immediately to move one of your current projects to completion.

Next actions are physical, visible behaviors—something that distinguishes them from the undefined stuff on most to-do lists. Learn more about next actions here.

  1. “Waiting for” items

Do you delegate tasks to coworkers and family members? If so, don’t let those items slip through the cracks. Keep a list of what you’re waiting for people to do. Add names and due dates.

  1. “Someday/maybe” items

This is a “bucket list” of fun things you might like to do in the future. Your someday/maybe list is a sacred place to hold projects that you’re not committed to yet but don’t want to forget. Get more details from this post by Andre Kibbe.

  1. Checklists

These can range from shopping lists and lists of stuff to pack when you travel to lists of core values and long-range goals.

Atul Gawande, physician and author of The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, describes the power of checklists to save lives. (Shane Parrish wrote a nice summary of the book.)

  1. People who matter

Bronnie Ware, a nurse who worked in hospice care, wrote Regrets of the Dying. One thing that many patients told her was “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.”

Keep a list of family members and friends that you want to contact regularly. On your death bed, you’ll be glad you did.

  1. Mistakes made, lessons learned

I’ve learned more from my mistakes than from anything I’ve ever read or heard. My commonplace book includes a running list of my mistakes and the life-changing insights they produced. This is a fairly long section.

My goal is to avoid repeating past mistakes—and to make only interesting and instructive mistakes in the future.

I also take comfort in this list of people who persisted through failure to success.

  1. Favorite quotations

Many of mine are from a favorite book—The Lazy Man’s Guide to Enlightenment by Thaddeus Golas. Tad reminds me that “We are always in the company of our equals” and to “Love as much as you can from wherever you are.” These lines have saved me from self-induced misery on several occasions.

To rise above the herd, verify the sources of your quotations. Sadly, many of the quotations embedded in articles and books are misattributed and inaccurate. Get the straight poop fromGarson O’Toole’s masterful Quote Investigator.

  1. Things to read, watch, hear, and learn

See Dan Coleman’s lists of free audiobooks, ebook, films, and courses at Open Culture. They can keep you busy for the rest of your life.

  1. Text playlist

I got this idea from a wonderful post by Leo Babauta. He defines a text playlist as “a series of articles I come back to and read on a regular basis, for inspiration or as a reminder.”

See Leo’s list here. Also check out examples from Liz Danzico and Frank Chimero.

Bonus: The Daily Practice List

James Altucher is an author and entrepreneur who turns list-making into a daily practice. His goal is to be an “idea machine.” So, he writes down 10 ideas every day, by hand, using a pen and waiter’s pad.

This practice, he says, enables him to create the stream of products and services that make him a multi-millionaire:

IDEAS ARE  THE CURRENCY OF LIFE. Not money. Money gets depleted until you go broke.  But good ideas buy you good experiences, buy you better ideas, buy you  better experiences, buy you more time, save your life. Financial wealth  is a side effect of the “runner’s high” of your idea muscle.

The bottom line: Don’t lead a “list-less” life.

For more options, see:

David’s Cool/Convenient Lists to Have

The Best Lists To Keep (That Might Seem Obsessive But Are Actually Super Useful)

Thirteen Things to Do with a Moleskine Notebook

12 Tips to Keep Your To-do List Short, as Well as Useful

9 Lists To Keep Updated, and Keep Handy

Practicing Simplified GTD (Gina Trapani just keeps 3 lists)



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