If you are anything like me, your inbox, Facebook, and Twitter news feeds are  jammed with lists: 5 Ways to Banish Negative Thoughts for Good, 10 Things You can Do Right Now to Grow Your Small Business, 15 Ways to be Happier in 2015. The list goes on and on.

Lists are everywhere! You might have a Google Doc of To Do lists open right now. Or you might do things the old-fashioned way and use paper and pen (many business coaches recommend both). Your smartphone, your fitness app, your brain are all set up to help you get through your day by making lists.

To_Do_ListThe most successful small business people I know make lists. They keep little notebooks in their pockets and check things off.  Who knows, they may even give themselves little smiley faces when they check things off their list. (I love the idea of Kevin Camisa giving himself smiley faces for his accomplishments!) Smiley faces or no, the fact is lists work.

Here’s why:

  1. Lists help relieve stress. Write it down on paper and let it go. This will give you a sense of moving forward and of releasing worry. You don’t have to fret about it anymore, it’s on your list!
  2. Lists help you achieve your short term goals. If you keep track of them, they are much easier to achieve!
  3. A good list will outline small steps you need to take in order to get where you want to go. “Studies have shown that people who write things down tend to get things done.” (http://immatureentrepr.hubpages.com/hub/creating-list)
  4. Lists give you direction. If you start to feel lost, just refer to your list.
  5. Lists make your long term goals more approachable. See #2. The act of simply writing them down makes them real. See #3. Creating a list of small actions you must take that lead to your long term goals will give you a clearer picture of the steps to get there.

Here is my favorite list of top 10 tips for making lists (from Richard Branson of Virgin Airlines):

  1. Write down every single idea you have, no matter how big or small
  2. Always carry a notebook
  3. Find a list method that works for you. Doodles, bullet-points, charts what suits you best?
  4. Make a list of small, manageable tasks to complete every day
  5. Mark off every completed task – you’ll find making each tick very satisfying
  6. Make your goals measurable so you know if your plans are working
  7. Set far off, outlandish goals. What do you want to have achieved by 2020? How about 2050?
  8. Include personal goals in your lists, not just business
  9. Share your goals with others. You can help motivate each other further
  10. Celebrate your successes then make new lists of new goal (http://www.virgin.com/richard-branson/top-10-tips-for-making-lists)

Branson (or his writer, but maybe it was actually him, he strikes me as his own list maker) wrote this top 10 list in relation to New Year’s Resolutions. “I have always lived my life by making lists. These vary from lists of people to call, lists of ideas, lists of companies to set up, lists of people who can make things happen. I also have lists of topics to blog about, lists of tweets to send, and lists of upcoming plans.

Each day I work through these lists, and it is by ticking off each task that my ideas take shape and plans move forward. As the new year gets started, lots of you will be busy making resolutions. If you want to stick to them, I suggest making them into lists.” (http://www.virgin.com/richard-branson/top-10-tips-for-making-lists)

FastCompany put together a great little video for making To Do lists. Put watching this video at the top of your list.