One of my earliest memories is coming out of my bedroom before sunrise. My dad was hard at work at the center island in the kitchen. He had a blazing fire roaring in the stove, and his tongue stuck slightly out of his mouth as he focused on writing something.
He was making a list. I must have only been two or three at the time, but I can remember being fascinated by what he was doing. It was obviously important — he was the only one up, working away, laser-focused on this list. I didn’t know it was a list at the time, but as I got older, I learned the power of the list.
My Dad is a master list maker. At his house now, at the same center island, I bet I could find 10 lists. That number could be 100, though. They would range from a traditional shopping list, which would probably have Spam on it, to a list naming Jeep parts he needs to buy, to another list of Jeep repairs that need to be done, to another list of books he wants to read, to another list of favorite Johnny Cash songs. They would all be on different sizes and shapes of paper, all in his block print handwriting, all capitals, with dashes preceding the words. I could recognize my Dad’s list if I found it on another planet.
I know because I make my lists almost the same. I tend to use notebook paper, specifically yellow-lined legal pads, but the structure of the list is the same. Dash, words, and then crossed out once dealt with.
I drive my wife crazy with my lists, mainly because I don’t keep them. Even if I go on the same trip every year, in the same Jeep, with the same equipment, it requires a new list. It isn’t so much the list that is important: it is the making of the list. My wife hates it that I pack for a week before I go somewhere. She keeps my old lists in a file and gets them out for me. She is being nice and trying to save me work, but then shakes her head and sighs at me when I start another list, even though last year’s list is RIGHT THERE on the breakfast bar.
Oh yeah, I do that the same as my Dad, too — lists are made in the kitchen. That’s where the work happens. I don’t know why — as Mando says, “This is the way.”
I have been thinking a lot lately about lists. I think our world needs more lists in it. Let me explain.
Another of my foundational memories of lists is playing college football. At the beginning of every special teams meeting or defensive meeting, a depth chart was projected on an overhead projector (if you remember those, you need to start checking your cholesterol numbers). It would list EXACTLY where my role was on the team for that week. At the top: starter. At the bottom: pack your warm clothes because you aren’t going to play.
I loved this list. I loved knowing who I needed to work harder than, who I needed to beat out. The list had power. All I wanted to do was see my name go up, not down. And I was ready to work hard, from the beginning of that meeting, to do what I had to do to move up the list. The list started the meeting and set the mindset for what was about to happen. The list was the start of the meeting for me, not the actual start of the meeting.
I wasn’t ready to Tonya Harding the teammates in front of me to move up the list. But, thinking about it, Tonya Harding did what she did because of her own list.
My son is running high school track. After each track meet, all the times are entered Athletic.net, and it provides — you guessed it — a list of the fastest times in each event. I can filter for lists of the fastest times by school, by track meet, by conference, by classification, by state, and for the entire nation. They ran last night, and the results were uploaded and ready to view at 5:15 this morning. High school track has the most efficient listing system I have ever seen!
And the list still has power. My son knows exactly who has a faster time than him in every race, what school, by how much, and when he will see them in a track meet. He is motivated by the list. I love seeing competition fueled by the power and simplicity of the list. Want to move up the list? Work your butt off in practice and see your name rise. It is so perfect.
We do the same thing with high school football. Once a week, the statistical leaders come out in the newspaper. Again, lists — Who has the most catches, yards rushing, tackles, interceptions, and whatever else we are counting. Our players know this. They see this. It is motivating. We talk about it as a defense — who is the best defense in the conference? Why can’t it be us? What is it going to take for it to be us? Again, the power and the simplicity of the list can motivate athletes.
I believe it can motivate academics, as well.
As a classroom teacher, I have always said I would like to project every students’ grade in a list on the board every Monday.
Side note: I don’t. I can’t. It is against the law or I would. Interesting that it is okay to do it in athletics, but it isn’t okay to do it in academics, but that’s an issue for another time.
I believe the list has power. If I walked into a class and my name was at the bottom of the list, I would focus my efforts on making my name go up. If my name was at the top of the list, I would do anything in my power to keep my name at the top. I would study harder. I would turn in all my work. I would ask questions. I would do exactly what I did when I saw my name at the bottom of a list in college 25 years ago.
I believe we should look for ways to motivate our high school students to greater heights. Maybe the power and simplicity of a list is all we need.
Lists have power. They can help us pack for trips. They can help us focus our thoughts on what needs to be done today. They can help us focus our work ethic. They can help us know who and what we are competing for.
Lists can also really irritate your wife if left out on the kitchen counter too long. Ask me how I know.