Making A List, Checking It Twice

My life revolves around lists. I own a clipboard that has a list with a bi- or tri-annually rotating assortment of to do items. As the paper gets filled and items get crossed out the list gets transferred to a new 8 1/2 by 11 piece of paper. Sometimes when the paper gets full and things start getting lost amid the scribbles, a purple highlighter will bring out the important, remaining stuff. Or if the paper is not crammed, three asterisks will denote the things requiring my immediate attention. A quick glance at my clipboard shows a purple highlighted (and crossed out) “pro form mtn boots” and a “***taxes” (also crossed out).

Some items have been on there for years. I have yet to give up the dream of Lasik surgery, going to the dentist, going to grad school or getting a subscription to Ultrarunner magazine. Even the address and, now likely out of date, subscription prices are on the list. As the song lyrics say “keep on dreaming even if it breaks your heart.” Kind of like that climbing list I have. I recently crossed the Bugaboos off of that one. So many other routes to do though and all are from long past parts/times of my life. Routes from North Conway, NH date to the college era and routes from the Utah desert date to the wilderness therapy days. Routes in AK date to post college years. Do I still want to do these routes? Heck yeah, but I guess there are priorities on any list, hence the purple highlighter and asterisks.

I can think of a reason why making lists is not good for my health. Similarly though, I can think of reasons why the converse may be true. Both have to do with memory. The brain is a muscle and studies have shown that throughout our lives we are able to create new neural connections as old neuron connections wear out. These connections are what help our memory. Since the brain is a muscle, we can make it stronger if we use it. So instead of writing things down, memorizing and recalling items on a list are just one way to work out our grey matter. Clearly making lists allows me to forget things and not have to retrieve them therefore not giving my brain exercise from which it will benefit. On the other hand making a list (or in my case, lists) allows me to reduce my stress level by letting me know that I will not have forgotten it. Also, writing lists works a part of the brain that helps with memory as it gives the idea another form (a kinesthetic form as opposed to just a concept). My highly effective and scientific Google search for the “benefits of list making” yielded significantly more relevant results than my search for “drawbacks of list making” or “does list making ruin your memory?”, both of which produced no relevant results. Due to that exhaustive research, I’ll probably stick with making lists.

I am a habitual list writer. I know where I got it. It came from my mother. Lists litter her kitchen counter, her kitchen table and various other places around the house. I distinctly remember my father complaining to my mother about how her lists were taking up the table. I guess these days I am not much better.


I also have electronic lists on my iPad Mini and laptop. These lists on the Stickies and Notepad applications were a bit vexing to me. One of the things I like about lists is seeing what I have accomplished. So deleting the things off the list deprives me of this experience. So after a while I started using either the strike-through feature or the √ (option + v) symbol next to the item. I now find the strike-through feature to be significantly more gratifying. It seems more complete. I have also recently discovered the ease of using the internet in order to synchronize my lists across devices and space. The Reminders application that comes with Apple’s iOS operating system and syncs with the same feature on its desktop operating system is my current go to tool for the job. In fact Reminders is quickly becoming my go to list, even more so than the clipboard, which at the moment, is quite full. I suppose I should put transcribing it onto a new piece of paper on my list of things to do.

Then there is the creation of the daily “To do” list. This is often taken from the bigger, “master” clipboard list, but sometimes it is comprised of daily commitments and tasks, ones that may not always be on  “the list.” I have found recently that the daily list makes me more productive. Instead of having a large, somewhat daunting selection of things to choose from, it allows for a bit more focus. The daily list lets me add repeating daily goals, such as exercising, climbing, and practicing Spanish, thus giving me the satisfaction of crossing something off and the task oriented momentum that comes with it.

A while back, as I was in “recovery” from an appendectomy, (about the time I wrote the initial draft of this post) I discovered the benefits of the daily “To do” list and how it made things simpler. Mostly I just put less items and easier tasks on it but doing some exercises, riding my bike, and cleaning my room seemed so much less daunting. As for that day, my daily list showed that I had organized my room, done 30 of the forty sit-ups and not yet shit my pants. Sometimes it is the simple things in life.

I am also the creator of professional lists. These live in electronic .pdf form in various cloud drive storage locations: One Drive, iCloud, Dropbox, Google Drive, etc. Having them stay in the cloud is a good way to get access to them regardless of the NOLS branch at which I am working. There are “Master Checklists” both for front country courses and backcountry courses covering all the stuff that I need to do for briefing days. The lists are comprised of things that over the years I have found add a lot to making courses run smoothly (i.e. check to see if we have left AND right crampons, or that the issue room gave us 200 carabiners and not 100 or that we have a photocopy of the add/delete sheet at our first ration). Also, both front and backcountry courses have their own “Personal Checklist” which is what I want to bring with me in my duffle bag or backpack. One might think that after 15 years of NOLS work I would know what to bring and this is true, which is why I wrote it down.

As I lose focus in the writing of this, my mind drifts towards leaving Lander for the southern hemisphere, now a somewhat yearly migration, and I start to think about what I need. Naturally I reach for my clipboard and start jotting down items onto the blank lines at the bottom of the printed list titled “To Patagonia (or other expeditions)”

One of the things on my list of things to write about for my blog was lists. I guess now that can get a strike-through.

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A little bit less of a nomad now, Jared still likes to refer to himself in the third person.


  1. November 13, 2016

    Hi Jared, Would I be possible to get a copy of your Patagonia list? I am heading there end of this month and it would be cool to see what you took.



    • admin
      November 13, 2016

      Hey Asher… thanks for coming to my site. If you click on “Gallery” and then “Documents” you should find a downloadable copy of the checklist. Where are you headed?

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