My First and Favorite Creativity Tool

Handmade notebook page
Using a pretty notebook can make lists more fun – I use both paper and note apps

My first and favorite creativity technique – Making Lists.

“What, really?”


I don’t mean an ordinary To Do list which is an organizing strategy – except when I do mean a To Do list as an inspiration finding tool.

Making a list, by which I mean actually writing down a numbered or bulleted list, is a fantastic way to get organized and get the creative cogs and wheels moving.

While it’s true that sometimes the first idea or design plan is perfect, most of time, in my experience, the third, fourth or fifth idea is going to blow the off-the-top-of-my-head idea out of the water. I am willing to bet that your ideas for solving your problem or designing your solution will be more innovative, surprising, and creative by the end of your list than at the start.

The act of making a list warms up the mind too, and switches on your imagination.

And of course I strongly recommend actually writing the list down so that you have your indelible record of increasingly interesting ideas and plans.

The trick is to make your idea list longer than you think you need – challenge yourself to write down double your entries, or add another 5 items – more than you imagine are reasonably sufficient.

For example instead of jotting down 10 ideas for future Creativity Blast blog posts, I challenged myself to devise 20, and then at the end of 20, I found 5 more in mind waiting to go on to the list.

It doesn’t matter if some of the ideas seem silly. It’s only an idea list, not a legally binding contract.

Here are some more of the creative lists I have made recently:

  • List of ideas to bring in more money. That led immediately to this little design business making collage sheets. The first five people to comment here will receive a free download of a collage sheet by email.
  • List of figurative sculptures I want to make. This list in turn becomes a series of idea for sketches, and informs my purchasing or sourcing of supplies.
  • List of titles for Craft-it-Easy school projects. This has been an essential step in moving forward with my business. I have over 50.
  • List of different gifts for different family members. This could be a brainstorming type of list made in a concentrated session, or an “open” list that gets added to whenever something cool crops up.
  • List of books, articles, blogs and magazines I want to explore. This helps me with prioritizing. I only have the same 24 hours every day that you, Oprah, President Obama and Marie Forleo have, and I don’t have time to waste on duplicates.
  • List of short video topics I am planning, which include how-tos and power point type presentations.
  • List of project designs/article ideas for my Natural Life Magazine column.

  • Gratitude lists. Every now and then I feel a bit down. The best way to feel better is with positivity. I will write a list of 30 things, as if it were for a month, but all at once. By the time I am down to silly little things like “an abundance of squirrels” I feel great about my life. Click here for a recent list that insisted on growing to 34 items. I twit a new #gratitude #abundance tweet every day too. More on this soon.

What about those To Do lists?

To Do lists can become a terrific tool for creative problem solving, especially if they are long. If you are anything like me, you have a very long and ongoing list that might include all kinds of things from business tasks, household duties, and daily reminders.

Here are some strategies and tools that elevate my To Do list:

  • Categorize. I have a daily list as a Note on my iPhone. It includes things that are everyday household tasks, that essentially don’t change but that I like to include because when I add a “Done” check mark I feel good about life. Then I have a list at the bottom of intermittent tasks, from which I choose something. For me this list includes the major tasks in my big household declutter. It’s nice to see the finished ones (“clear bathroom counter”) checked off. However there are also a bunch of tasks that are more creative activities, such as my brainstormed lists of writing topics for different outlets including magazines, Making Mothering Musing blog posts, or for a screenplay. The To Do item simply reads “Write”.

  • Update Often. There are other tasks that come and go. My list at the moment includes “Make calls re estate sales” but that is only temporary.

  • Use your Calendar program. Many have a To Do list that will come up to one side. I like to put in reminders of deadline items, such as monthly payments, and publishing deadlines.
  • For projects WorkFlowy is my favorite organizing program. It allows you to stack and divide tasks, and is intuitive. Plus you can click into tasks and add notes and print.

  • Link and regroup. I said earlier that lists are great creativity tools “especially if they are long”. Here’s another reason why I believe that – the killing two birds with one stone aspect. I might write a lengthy list, and then I start seeing patterns and repetitions. I might notice that similar items come up in different places. Maybe I can adapt one piece of writing for two different media. Maybe something I thought would make a great article will translate beautifully into a short how-to video. Maybe the photos I need for a blog post will be great for a collage sheet or other design.

From another point of view, maybe you will start to see patterns in your To Do list – a chunk of one kind of task that is always left til last, or something that repeats regularly, or a repeating time scale. It was from noticing the repeats on my shopping list that I worked out a system for making sure I don’t run out of pantry items.*

My other productivity secret for my task based To Do lists is to add a time allotted (rather than a deadline, which I tend to ignore unless it has been externally imposed). This will allow several useful things:

  • Discovering whether I am spending too long on unimportant things. Remember the Time Management Matrix.
  • Discovering where I am super efficient. Yay.
  • Discovering where it might be worth getting help in some way – which might bring me back to my list of money making ideas.
  • Planning my day. If I already have a natural interruption or stopping point built into the day, like driving my daughter to dance class, it makes no sense to start on a project that will require 4 hours.

*It’s very simple. I just have one open in use and one in the pantry, which in my small apartment is just a cupboard – so no room for stockpiling. When I run out of the one in use, I add it to my shopping list on the side of the fridge, and pull the one in the pantry cupboard out to use. To start, you do have to buy two, but then it becomes self-sustaining. Never running out of mayonnaise gives me a remarkable feeling of abundance and serenity.

This was a long post, because I really believe that making lists of ideas has been one of the best things I do for the purpose of jump starting my ideas, and planning my time.


  1. Really, it’s true. I’m more productive and I actually get around to doing the creative things I love when I make and use lists. I love the idea of pretty lists. I’ve never gotten over my self consciousness enough to journal, but when I’ve saved my lists and calendars they’ve functioned as awesome shorthand records of life.

    • Oooh, I do like that idea of saving lists to become a record. I used to keep our wall calendars, when they were full of events. Now all of that is online instead saved at Google. I print them out monthly for my private school records. BTW Deb, you are in the first five commenters, so you score another collage sheet as a gift. Will you let me know which one you would like?

  2. Great post, I really like the cute notebook you have pictured! I am a LIST person!

    • Thanks Pam. You are the first commenter! Please go and check out the collage sheets and let me know which one you want emailed to you.

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