Using what’s at hand

September 18th, 2007

Using what’s at hand, he finished up the yard. He could use it and know when to quit.

–Zen koan

In my aim to demystify time, I’m devoting today’s post to the magic of the plain, old, ordinary list.

1. Make a list every night before you go to bed.

2. Use whatever you have at hand: the back of an envelope, a scratch pad, even waste paper. You do not need a special system or calendar. You do not need technology. You only need discipline and a moment’s attention. Do not let anyone convince you this is more complicated than it appears, although many people are in the business of doing just that.

3. Keep your list simple.

4. Put the things on it you want to do tomorrow, even things you don’t need to list in order to remember. Scratching things off the list is a marvelous activity, and marvelous activities tend to be repeated. For instance, write “Do laundry.” Notice that I did not say, “Finish laundry” because that isn’t realistic and your reward would be too long delayed. See item 5.

5. Be realistic. For instance, do not write “Lose 10 pounds.” Write instead “Walk the dog.” Do not write “Become millionaire by 30.” Write instead: “Skip Starbucks.”

6. Do not list things to think about. Write only things to do. Contemplation is overrated.

7. Now the magic part. By writing things down, you take wandering thoughts and persistent anxieties out of your head and bring them out into the real world.

8. Things in the real world have form.

9. Things in the real world take place. You will be amazed at what you do simply because you wrote down that you would, even if you never look at the list again. But do yourself a favor and look at the list again. Keep it at hand and use it.

10. At the end of the day, be satisfied with what you did, and make a new list.


  1. For me, this is a mandatory activity. It is totally true that writing something down gives it form and reality.

    Comment by Mama Zen — September 18, 2007 @ 4:38 pm

  2. i’m really enjoying your teachings on time, maezen.

    Comment by Wendy — September 18, 2007 @ 11:45 pm

  3. Into the real world.
    Yes, that is what writing it down does.

    Comment by bella — September 19, 2007 @ 3:15 am

  4. Thank you for this. This has been a practice of mine but I’ve let it go.

    I’m enjoying the posts on time these days. My perspective has changed, as you know. 🙂

    Comment by kathryn — September 20, 2007 @ 5:22 am

  5. Thank you for showing me this.

    I think I need to try it.


    Comment by Barbara — February 14, 2009 @ 1:34 pm

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