The four reasons I love lists, even if they make me inefficient

There’s a reason websites have taken to the listicle as a way of sharing stories – lists are quick, clear, organised and satisfying

Alice Jones@alicevjones
Thursday 25 February 2016 18:17
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Much to-do about nothing: Is making a list really a waste of time?
Much to-do about nothing: Is making a list really a waste of time?

Lists. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. 1. There is no workload that cannot be made less harrowing by writing it down, neatly, on separate lines. 2. Bullet points are really fun to type. 3. Writing a task on a list when it’s already completed, then crossing it out is one of life’s great pleasures. 4. I would be lost without you.

Enough. Lists are excellent. I’ll list anything, given a pen, paper and a few minutes in a boring meeting. There are the obvious lists: work tasks, supermarket shopping, and so on. The Expert Lister will also have iPhone Notes titled “Things To Get Round To”, “Books to Read”, “Sitcom Pitches”, “Lottery Win Plans”. The Champion Lister will have different apps for different lists (email me, I’ll send you a list). The Self-Aware Lister will realise that she is, finally, turning into her mother.

So the news that lists make people less efficient throws a real spanner in the works. Kevin Kruse, bestselling author of 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management – which sounds suspiciously like a list in book form – has written for Forbes arguing that to-do lists are “where important tasks go to die”. Only 41 per cent of items listed ever get done, apparently, and that just piles more stress on to our already overloaded lives.

The chief problem with lists, says Kruse, is that they do not distinguish between tasks that take a few minutes and ones that might take all day, which means that the lister is more likely to pick the quick and easy, or the urgent, over the most important job. Instead, Kruse suggests, people should live by the calendar and divide their days into 15-minute blocks, like stressed-out GPs. That way, it is possible to assess how long a task might take before adding it to the workload. If there’s no room for it on the calendar, it doesn’t get added to the day. It sounds a bit like the revision timetables we were made to draw up at school, to which we devoted far more time and highlighter pens than the revision itself.

There’s a reason websites have taken to the listicle as a way of sharing stories – lists are quick, clear, organised and satisfying. Mainly, though, making a list is about taking control, so the very last thing any list devotee wants to hear is advice on how to do it better. Leave us to our bullet points and crossing-out.

Our shameful lack of social mobility

Social mobility is dead, or resting at the very least. The Sutton Trust’s “Leading People 2016” survey has found – to the surprise of none – that the UK’s leading professions, including law, politics, medicine and journalism, are dominated by a privately educated elite. Only seven per cent of the population are educated at private schools but they turn out 74 per cent of judges, 71 per cent of barristers, 50 per cent of the current Cabinet and 67 per cent of British Oscar winners.

Meanwhile Helen Pearson’s fascinating new book The Life Project tells the story of a research project which set out to collect information on every baby born in the UK in one week in March 1946. Scientists have been collecting information on those babies ever since and similar cohort studies – conducted in 1958, 1970, 1991 and 2000 – have fed into thousands of papers and books exploring everything from cot death to smoking to divorce.

The dominant theme down the decades is inequality and how class and income affects every aspect of a person’s life, from the height they are when they start school to the age they drop dead from a heart attack. Pearson’s grim conclusion is that a baby who was born in 2016 has less chance of climbing the ladder than a baby born in 1946. Shameful.

Adele is good, but she’s all we have

Can you have too much of a good thing? Adele is an excellent thing, on and off stage, but there was something a little desperate about the adulation heaped upon her at the Brits. The singer won four awards, including Best Female in a category that included the late Amy Winehouse, and Global Success, which was presented to her from outer space by astronaut Tim Peake. She was also afforded the honour of closing the show, bumping the David Bowie tribute to penultimate place.

Adele is a phenomenon. She is also – pending the final implosion of One Direction – the one-woman financial future of the UK record business, and the Brits famously looks after its cash cows. But when she disappears for another four years to make her next album, who will fill the sonic void? Sam Smith? A couple of soul singers do not a music industry make. If the Brits showed us anything, it’s that apart from one multi-millionaire girl from Tottenham, the future of British music is nothing to shout about.

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