This isn’t something that everyone likes to do, but if we were honest, we all benefit from making lists on some level. As free-spirited as a person might be, a to-do list, shopping list, priority list, etc., keeps things on track.

Maybe you say you hate lists and they feel too confining. No, you hate the confines of responsibility and writing it all down can be overwhelming, so you choose to just look at what’s in front of you. If that’s working for you, you are keeping a list, you’re just doing it in your head, and the little dude in your brain who represses bad memories so you can function every day only lets you see the next thing on the list so you don’t freak out. If it’s not working for you, you need to keep the list outside your brain, maybe on the fridge where you can see it.

Here’s what happens when we don’t make lists:

You can only remember 3-4 things at a time. That’s science. You will forget something if you need to know more than 3-4 things today unless you write them down.

The things you are most likely to forget will be the things that are either out of the norm, or worse, the things the little dude of repressed memories erased for you. Why do we forget to take out the trash every week—every week, like there haven’t been 52 Thursdays every year since Thursdays were invented? Because we hate taking out the trash, so that’s the one we forget.

We also tend not to focus on things that happen irregularly or when incidents are far apart, like an annual event. It’s always a surprise when the DMV sends the registration notice and the month it’s due is literally printed on the back of my car. Car repairs are much harder to schedule than simple oil changes because you don’t know when the car might break. Technically, the car has less of a chance of breaking if you keep up on the oil changes, but those happen far enough apart that we often don’t think about those either.

Depending on your personal ability to juggle mental lists, you may forget one tiny thing one day and be able to catch it before anyone else does, or you may be the one standing in the rubble saying, “I guess I should have kept up on that—I completely forgot.”

Take some time at work today and write two different lists—yours and the company as a whole, even if you aren’t in a position to make decisions. You know the parts of your company that impact you, and you can list those. For example, your list may have specific assignments for this week and more generalized projects for the few weeks to follow, but the company might need to expand their physical office space if recent hiring has made for really cramped conditions, and anyone with a server room needs to have an Engineer take a peek at it once in a while to make sure all is well, so if you’ve never seen an Engineer in there, you may want to ask.

Hopefully, the Powers That Be are making lists, too, but if you’re just a “grunt” working in the office, you still have someone you report to. If you were able to have a friendly conversation with your supervisor over just the parts you can see, you might just be the timely reminder that saves everyone. The Powers That Be are just people like you and me, and maybe they get overwhelmed too.

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