The list that reduces my stress instantly

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by Debra Dane on November 7, 2012

in Home Life

Are you a list writer? I love lists. I have shopping lists, to-do lists, lists of special dates to remember, books I want to read, movies to check out and more. Above all else there is one list that is more effective than any other at instantly reducing my stress levels. It is my master list.

What is a master list?

You can call it a master list, a running list or that big bad list of everything. The main point is that it is a holding place for all the little details and to-dos and ideas that are rattling around in your mind. Instead of letting yourself get sidetracked constantly managing this information, trying to remember it all, worrying about things, you can relax a little knowing at least it is all captured on paper (or digitally).

How do you create a master list?

The point of the master list is not to prioritise your life or manage deadlines. It is a capture tool so the main method is always the wonderful “brain dump”.

When you start from scratch your first time simply take a few minutes to note anything and everything that is currently in progress, looming deadlines, ideas you have for your home and life, things you know are coming up, niggly tasks etc.

If you do this regularly you simply keep adding to your existing list. You can rewrite it occasionally if you are a paper and pen person and want a fresh list. Digital versions obviously allow for regular updates and a clean and organised list.

If you have specific areas that are huge projects you can use this tool to dump all the tasks down. If you were decluttering, organising and/or renovating a home you could go from room to room and add tasks that need to get done. For any projects you have going on you can use this to break them down into mini projects and action steps. When you are planning a trip it helps to just think through all aspects of what you will be doing, what you need to bring etc and just dump it all in one master list. You might not need to get cash at the ATM yet, but having it on the list will make sure when the time comes you remember to stop off before your departure.

Why does this list reduce my stress more than any other?

The first reason is simply knowing there is a place with every little thing captured. I don’t have the pressure to remember random tasks someone has asked me to do or that I have thought of, but won’t get to immediately. I review it regularly so I won’t miss anything.

Another way it helps is I use it to batch tasks. I read through the list and see if there are things that I can group by context. They might be from several areas that are not connected but the type of task connects them. So items like buy new umbrella for Alice, pick up spray paint for X project, and get photos printed could all be done on one errand / shopping run. Then when I scan my list for things to do that week I know when I am setting aside Thursday morning to run errands I have my errand list started already. I am not then running back to the shops two days later when I decide to start that DIY project.

Lastly it keeps my to do list / planner clear and not over filled with tasks. I only move a handful of tasks at a time onto my weekly planner and to do list daily planner. Many people make the mistake of treating their to do list as a master list and it can be overwhelming to see 20 things listed when really you will only get to 3 or 4 that day.

How do you use the master list?

I use the master list as my jumping off point when I am planning my week ahead.

As I am planning out the week I scan the list for items that are time sensitive and need to get done or items that I am able/want to tackle that week.

I can lock in the necessary blocks of time and check off those items.

I regularly read through my list and see if there is anything I no longer want/need to do or can delegate. If my husband mentions he is going to a store for something he needs and I have something on my master list I can pass that task onto him right then and there. If something has sat on my list for a long time maybe I don’t really want to do it or there is another task I need to do first (ie get some information to move things along).


What lists do you use? Do you keep a master list?


Find your simple,



Image credit: flickr user jking 89

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Chrissie November 7, 2012 at 8:05 am

I love the term “brain dump”! I’m curious to know, are you more of a pen and paper type of gal or you up with the times and use technology?
I keep to do lists but they seem to get re started so often I can’t always remember whats on them! This sounds like a great alternative.
Chrissie xx
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Debra Dane November 7, 2012 at 4:38 pm

Chrissie I am most certainly paper and pen! I do love the notes feature on my phone and ipad and use them a lot for things like books to read, jotting down info i need short term (like when we went to sydney i quickly made an entry for where I parked the car in long term parking), details someone gives me when i don’t have paper handy.

A great system for lists / to do’s that my husband uses, my old boss did too and a reader who emailed me her system – use 1 single notebook and start a new page each day. you have a record of things, have a fresh page for the day etc – you could even use a notebook and put the master to do list at the back (working in from there) and the daily planning to do lists starting from the front (ok i will stop now – i love lists and writing in notebooks LOL)
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deanna November 7, 2012 at 4:16 pm

Now that I have read this a master list does not seem that daunting of a task.Instead of filling my head with to do’s the master list will be filled.I will even be able to downsize my diary.Ahh the simplicity of it all.Absolutely wonderful hints.Thankyou for making my life easier.


Debra Dane November 7, 2012 at 4:39 pm

Thanks Deanna – glad to help you get some of that out of your head and ease up your diary as well. xxx
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bethmarie November 7, 2012 at 9:26 pm

Oh I love this Deb! I am a major list writer, but have drawers filled with little pieces of paper with lists written all over them…one central location would make so much more sense! And I always love an excuse to buy myself a new pretty notebook :) I might have missed it in the post, but what do you use for your master list?


Debra Dane November 7, 2012 at 11:27 pm

Up until now I have changed regularly – sometimes i use a spiral notebook, other times I will get a fresh pad of paper… I think after our trip I am going to get 1 notebook and use it ongoing and commit to it LOL i just am such a stationery whore that i constantly like to start fresh and use different notebooks but it does mean i end up with 10 different partially used notebooks in my office. the key is just keeping the list in 1 set place wherever that is so you know where to check for new things to tackle… (always note if there is a deadline for something so it pops out at you as you scan – especially if your list is long) xxx
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bethmarie November 8, 2012 at 8:35 am

Ah yes, keeping it in the same place, that would be key!! Thank you for your reply, I’m definitely adding this to my “soon to be gone post-it-note to do list!” ps.I giggled at “stationary whore”…


Shell November 8, 2012 at 6:19 am

I do exactly what you do!!! And last week, I lost my notebook!!! My lists for projects around the house, to do & crossed off underway, my new handmade business lists and oh no, my design sketches from here there and everywhere on the go. I think it has to be at home somewhere, but I’ve turned the house over looking & it’s not turned up yet. So I’m stuck. Feel a bit lost & quite stressed. Any tips on what next?!?
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Debra Dane November 8, 2012 at 8:21 am

Stay calm – what i tell my girls all the time is – if you did not take out of the house it is here somewhere since it cant walk ; ) I thought i lost a form i needed for a medical test – it took me 4 days to find until i noticed a small notebook i had with me at the doctor’s office – i had tucked it in there for safe keeping on the way home LOL. think back to the last time you used it – visualise where you were. other than that go room to room and scan the space, lifting anything and everything that it could be under (you know the things you use and move regularly that could be sitting on top of it) – my phone was missing yesterday but L had put her homework on top of it…Good luck hon!!!
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Pam November 9, 2012 at 5:01 pm

I am a total list maker! Makes sense indeed to have a master one instead of filling up my organiser, I do find the days fill and then don’t get done so taks have to be moved, which is in itself disheartening! Cheers – I will start a little notebook instead! My husband mocks my lists….little does he know how things would completely fall apart around here if I didn’t make them :)
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Debra Dane November 16, 2012 at 9:20 am

Missed this one Pam – I am with you – I have only seen my husband write a list a handful of times and usually on a scrap piece of paper or in my notebook / own pages (grr!) but if i stopped the world would collapse as he has no idea what goes into running the family side of things (he does have a notebook for work though and starts a new sheet each day so always knows what’s happening there – just has no desire to apply that skill to home LOL)
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Me November 16, 2012 at 8:26 am

Big list maker here !!! I live by lists and my diary – if I leave it at home (because I was writing in it the night before) I feel lost and frustrated because it is my life line to making sure I keep on top of what I need to do (or at least as on top of it as I can be given time constraints !!)
Have the best weekend and a great holiday !
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Debra Dane November 16, 2012 at 9:20 am

Thanks so much lovely – and i agree with your comment 100% – i “get” you ; )
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Kickstart Your Change November 20, 2012 at 6:45 am

Master list sounds like a great start. Could also be useful to put this in the framework of a self-management system… as David Allen describes it:

“Get everything out of your head. Make decisions about actions required on stuff when it shows up–not when it blows up. Organize reminders of your projects and the next actions on them in appropriate categories. Keep your system current, complete, and reviewed sufficiently to trust your intuitive choices about what you’re doing (and not doing) at anytime.”

If something like Allen’s GTD feels too complex, a simpler system like ‘Final Version’ ( might work too.


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