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I’m Making A List…

by Ally Piper

Like the popular Christmas song suggests, I’ll be spending a lot of time making lists over the next few weeks. But I won’t just be checking them twice, instead I’ll be checking them at least 52 times over the next year.

I use lists everyday in my life and business. Maintaining a weekly list of tasks and projects and creating a focused daily list of items I want to accomplish brings order to my otherwise unordered and chaotic life. As fellow list-makers know, there is nothing quite like the satisfaction of crossing an item off a long list of to-dos.

I’m a pen and paper gal myself and find bliss from using a contrasting color for my cross-offs. On my desk I always have two pens – a black or blue one and a red one. The variation of color helps me to see what I’ve accomplished.

In addition to my day-to-day use of lists, I’ve found that using a list-based approach to planning for the year ahead jumpstarts my thinking and helps me move from inspiration to action. Brainstorming and planning are two of my favorite activities, but without a structure for moving forward it is easy to get stuck in the planning phase.

The New Year is a popular time for goal setting, but studies show that less than half of the people, 46% in fact, who set resolutions hold on to them past the six month mark. My aim is to help you keep moving forward because I’ve found nothing inspires action more than a list.

To get started, grab a notebook or paper and pen or pencil. I find a fresh sheet of paper for each list is incredibly helpful and don’t be afraid to experiment using different colored papers, markers or pencils. I’m a very visual person so sometimes designating a different color for each list is helpful.

The beauty of list making is that it’s completely portable, so find a space that suits you — some of my best lists-making sessions have happened on Nauset Beach!

Before looking ahead, it’s always important to acknowledge your starting point. Consider what you’ve accomplished over the last year. Any important milestones to celebrate? What lessons have you learned?

While walking participants of my business planning workshop, Napkin Note Biz Plan, through a similar exercise one December, a woman in the group shared that she had totally forgotten she’d gone back to school and gotten her degree. It was a huge achievement, but the everyday busyness of life had gotten in the way of her truly celebrating her success.

As women, I’m convinced we spend entirely too little time celebrating our successes, so take a fresh piece of paper and honor where you are on your journey.

Once you feel centered and complete, let’s create your wish lists for the year ahead and beyond.

Who do you want to meet? What do you want to experience? What do you want to see or learn? What new places do you want to explore? Turn off your inner critic for this one and let your imagination run wild. If money and time were no object, what would you really want? Don’t hold yourself back and have fun!

Just like any good road trip, having a clear destination is essential for a successful trip. Your wish lists help you create a vision for where you are headed.

Taking a different colored pen, marker or highlighter go back through your wish lists and highlight the items you want to focus on and make steps towards next. Often, I find the items that need to be accomplished before moving on to the next big thing always rise to the top. Not circling or highlighting an item doesn’t mean you won’t achieve it, it just means that now is not the right time. I recommend choosing only three at a time to avoid overwhelm.

When I was new to vision setting, I created a mind movie that included images and statements covering everything I wanted to accomplish in the next 12 months, from growing my business to moving to live by the ocean, to writing more and starting a family all set to powerful, motivating music. Feeling pumped, I shared it with a colleague and her feedback was, “It’s beautiful, but can you really achieve all this in the next year?”

She shared a very important piece of advice – that we can have it all, just not all at once.

There is a season in our life for everything we desire and instead of being overwhelmed by getting everything crossed-off at the same time, picking at it bit by bit will lead to lasting success.

Fast-forward almost five years and many parts of the vision I created for myself have started to come true, including living by the ocean and writing more. The timeline has been completely different than what I expected, but my wishes are coming true!

Choosing what to focus on next is where reality and daydreaming collide, but it doesn’t have to be a nasty accident. Often, our wishes are big and lofty and need to be broken down into smaller, more achievable steps for us to make significant progress and stay motivated.

For example, one of my biggest wishes for a long time has been to write a book. I’ve wanted it since I was a little girl, but have struggled with making it a reality because though it feels exciting, it is also completely overwhelming.

Recently I’ve changed my thinking, so instead of saying I’m going to write a book, I’m committing to developing a daily writing habit and seeing where that takes me. By writing just 500 words a day for 30 days, I will have written 15,000 words. Talk about motivation!

For each wish you’ve identified to focus on, create a list of all the steps that need to be taken to get from where you are now to where you want to be. There is no step too small or insignificant for this list! Use as much paper as you need and don’t worry about the order for the moment, just get it down. Then return to the list and put the steps in the order they need to be completed.

Finally, the most important list I make each year is my calendar list. I’ve learned a very important lesson while running my creative services firm for the past seven years – if it’s not on the calendar it will never happen.

What’s funny is that I received this advice from a colleague back when I began my first job after college, but it took me years and lots of missed opportunities to learn my lesson. Now I consider my calendar list to be one of the most important lists I create. It directs the flow of my year.

On your calendar list, include all the business and personal development, marketing, educational and networking events you are already committed to attending, plus the ones you really want to attend, and most importantly the vacation and personal time you will be taking away from work.

Once this list is complete, open your calendar and block the time off now, including time to make progress towards your goals, before it gets booked for something else.

The true power in your lists is in keeping your goals front and center. Return to them on a weekly or, at a minimum, monthly basis to check-in, cross of your achievements and get re-inspired.

Take one small step each day and revel in the feeling of crossing it off. Remember, each item crossed-off is one step closer to making your wishes come true.

Make The Leap Towards Creating
What You Want

Virtual Napkin Note Biz Plan Workshop

Attend from the comfort of your home or office!

Monday, January 12, 2015
Click HERE for details

Planners & Workbooks
For Your Business & Life

Click HERE for details

A New Take On Resolutions
Special New Year’s Teleclass with Ally

Click HERE for details

Ally Piper is a list-maker, simplicity seeker, writer, designer and marketing director who recently achieved her dream of living by the ocean when she and her husband relocated to Harwich last winter.

By day, she manages marketing and creative projects for business and nonprofit clients across the US through her company A. Piper Creative. She is the creator of the Napkin Note Biz Plan Workshop, where she shares her simple yet powerful planning system for busy business owners.

But that is just one side of the story. Ally is writing her own rules on creativity, success, balance, business and life. She is a student of Reiki and recently fell in love with Yoga. Ally blogs about life, business and balance at