My List

check-list-800pxHalfway down the driveway, my wife called me back to the house.

“Stop at the Quicky Mart,” she said, “I need milk.”

“Is there anything else you need?”  I asked.

“Crackers, yogurt and you better pick up craisins and walnuts, we are getting low.”

“Have you checked the cupboard.”

“I don’t have to.”

So I headed back to the car and almost made it.

“Aren’t you forgetting something?” she called.

I thought about it for a while. “Nope,” I said.

“You forgot to make a list,” she said.

“Why do I need a list?” I asked.

“Because you forget things.”

“Like what?”

“You just forgot to make a list.”

I hate it when she forces me to make lists. I never use them. Even when I carry one, I will forget to look at it. I trust my memory instead – not that my memory is all that reliable – but it is trustworthy. The only thing a list will reliably tell you is what is on the list – you have to trust your memory to know why.

Like with craisins.

My wife insists that we eat oatmeal in the winter. She says it is good for us in the cold weather.  But she will not eat it until she has sprinkled walnuts and craisins into her bowl. So she keeps a generous supply of them on hand and when it gets low, she gets anxious. Instead of checking the cupboards and realizing we have ten packages of craisins and twenty packages of walnuts, she will put both on the shopping list.

But here is the thing about lists. Lists have magical powers. Once an item is placed on a list, it gains a life of its own.  Try as you might, you can never remove it. You can scratch a line through it but that doesn’t fool anybody. You can blot an item out but you will always know what hides there and it knows too.

I learned this about lists years ago.

I worked for a project manager who lugged around a day-planner that was twice as thick as a New York telephone book and weighed six times as much.  It rivaled The World telephone book for detail because it was crammed full of lists.  Wherever she went, whatever she did, she made a list of it.

One day, after reviewing a list of attendees for a requirements gathering session, I pointed out that no one in the room understood the business.  They were people who managers sent to our meeting because they could afford to send them.   All the people who knew what they were doing were too busy.

So we spent the day making ridiculous lists of whatever popped into anyone’s head. After the meeting, I spent an hour revising the list by scratching off all the fluff.

She was horror struck.

“You can’t do that!” she cried, “we have a process and we are going to follow it.” She then slavishly insisted that all the original items be included in the plan.  I bailed long before that project hit the ground.

“Let’s see what you got,” my wife asked upon my return.

I presented the milk, crackers and yogurt for her inspection.

“You forgot the craisins and walnuts.”

I offered nothing in my defense.

“You forgot something else too,” she said.

I reviewed my mental list. “No I didn’t.”

“Yes, you did.”

“What?”

“You forgot the list.”