Can’t Keep Up? 10 Ways to Simplify Your Life Through Journal Lists

productivity boost through journal writing

Why in the world do you take pen in hand and make a list?

Usually, first and foremost is the need to remember, to recall the important things mentioned on the list. Some lists are meant to be for the short term. For instance your grocery or to-do lists are most often used then tossed. Yet, there are reasons you may want to put either of those lists in your journal and I will get to that later.

Following is a list of 10 lists which you can use in your journal. Using these lists will aid you in saving time, learning more, functioning at a higher level, remembering more for a longer period of time or most importantly understanding more about yourself, thereby increasing the tools in your life enhancement tool box. This set of lists is a basic start. You can use these as well as develop lists of your own. Your lists will coincide with your lifestyle, your desire to increase your well being and your determination to make a difference in your world.

Option list

Options lists can be fun as well as functional. The names Mom and Dad are considering for the new little guy they expect in a few more months, or the new tag line which will be suitable for your new business or division are a couple of ways an option list can be used.

You can also use an option list when you are trying to decide which action to take, when you are not yet sure of the next step you need to make in either your professional or personal life.

Your list may be a simple one or have added information. For example when your list is of baby names it might stand alone, or you may wish to add information such as what each name means, it’s origin, why the name appeals to you, which other family members share the name and so on. Or, when you are looking for the latest and greatest new electronic gadget you might include in your list of options, the pros and cons for each brand or type, the prices of each, an evaluation of the value as opposed to the cost or other considerations important to you.

Think of the options you face, job choice, college, business opportunities, budgetary decisions and make an option list in your journal that will aid you in moving toward your goals.

Gratitude list

A gratitude list is one which serves you well on both your “good” days and your “bad.” This ongoing list of the multitude of things for which you are grateful gives you the added zing of pleasure as you record each individual item, person, circumstance or feature of your life. And, on those days which make you feel as if the gods-of-chaos have focused on you and you alone, return to your gratitude list for a reality check.

Try jump-starting your list by recording the first 10 or 15 things to pop into your head. The things which give you joy, pleasure, excitement, contentment or comfort. You can choose to add to the list as often as you like. Some people note something weekly. Others only add to their lists as the notion strikes. Still others add to their lists when they begin to feel the woe-is-me syndrome coming on – a preemptive strike, if you will. When you feel the need for an attitude adjustment, look back at the items you’ve previously recorded then take time to add a few more.

My gratitude list includes everything from apple pie to zebras and a number of things, people and life features between.

I must offer this warning about a gratitude list. Not only is this type of list addictive the rereading of your list may bring you to tears. A revisited gratitude list is the best way to remind yourself that even when your day is most bleak you still have an overflowing cup.

Language list

You may find other ways to use a language list but the three ways which I’ve found most helpful are to maintain a spelling list, a vocabulary list, and a foreign language list.

When I say spelling list, I don’t mean your grade school learn-this-list-until-the-test-is-over list. I have in mind a real, actual, meaningful spelling list. Ask my friends at Journal in a BoxTM and you will hear that I have trouble with words like chose and choose. And guess what, spell check is happy to let me use either, although one is wrong according to its usage in a sentence.

When you find there are words you repeatedly misspell add them to your spelling list. That may be all you need to do in order to get the effect you desire. Or, you may need to add the definition or an explanation of how to remember to spell the word correctly.

Because I grew up in a loving household which none-the-less tended to mispronounce common English words or assign some words the wrong definition, there are times when I struggle with vocabulary. Both my mom and my grandmother pronounced the name for green grass which grows in some people’s yards as lawnds. Then there are the long necked beasts which live in Africa. I thought for years they were called girafftes. Notice the subtle addition of an extra consonant in each of those words?

Also, I love to read, I love to learn and because of these to loves I frequently find new words which I want to add to my vocabulary. Writing a new word helps to cement it to the brain. Returning to your list to study the words you want to incorporate into your speaking or writing is a simple way to reinforce the words you are trying to learn.

A foreign language list is helpful for actually accessing new words in the language you’re trying to acquire as well as for dabbling in a language. I dabble. I know a few Spanish words and occasionally take a step to learn a few more. Adding words to the list reinforces that which you’ve already learned.

Aspiration list

An aspiration list is slightly different than a goals list. In fact, some people call an aspiration list a bucket list, a wish list or a dream list. You might want to think of an aspiration list as a daydream list with possibilities. One wonderful aspect of an aspiration list is that it allows you to accumulate ideas, thoughts and prospects without being in the least worried about whether or not the items on the list are practical or doable. Still, there are times when items from your aspiration list will move to your goals list.

Anything you can think of that you would like to do or experience can go on this list. Go to the moon, volunteer with an organization of your choice, start a business, join an exclusive club, become well known, make a kazillion + dollars, invent a mind reading machine, understand what makes the opposite sex tick, join a circus, develop a cure for cancer . . .

By opening up your mind through your aspiration list there is no telling where you might find yourself a year from now. It might be in your new home, with a group of friends who are each reading aloud from their hilarious aspiration lists. Or it could be you will be exploring the ocean floors with a world class group of oceanographers.

The point of your aspiration list is to daydream in writing and see if any rabbit holes open up to accommodate your own personal wonderland.

Goals list

The first assignment we give in the goals class we teach at Journal in a BoxTM (Your Journal: The Tool to Reach Your Goals) is to write 10 different goals in your journal. Some people are saddened that we limit the list to 10 and others are hard pressed to come up with 10.

In your journal you may write as many or as few as you would like. Your goals will stretch across your professional, personal and spiritual life. You can also have goals that are just for fun.

After you’ve written your goals list choose one which you want to pursue. Once you’ve acquired the new habits needed to reach your goal or after you have reached your goal choose another from the list and begin again.

Keep adding goals to your list as soon as you identify them. Keep working on one goal at a time as you check them off.

Sometimes as your life shifts and changes you will discover that some of the goals on your original list will no longer be important. Cross off the goals you no longer wish to seek.

Your goals list is perhaps the most important list you will put in either your personal or business journal. It has the most potential to shape and influence your personal and professional life.

Book list

Your book list will include the title, the author, date completed and any notes you have about the book. You may also want to note if the book was recommended and if so by whom.

A list of the great (and not so great) books you’ve read is useful in a number of ways.

The first way the list is useful is to remind you of what you do or do not want to purchase in the future. I didn’t finish War and Peace because . . . or I’ll buy any book (your favorite author) writes.

And there is more. Your list is useful when making recommendations to family, friends and coworkers. It is also a godsend when determining a gift list for those same folks.

And, isn’t it exciting to think of the pleasure your children and grandchildren will derive from reading your list and hopefully some of your own favorite books.

Plus, you will have fun walking back through memory lane as you note the genres you are most drawn to, the different phases you went through, your favorite authors, what your interests are and what they were at any particular time in your past.

Your book list is also amazingly useful when you are on a personal or professional quest for life or business improvement. Which books need to be reread? Which should you give to your employees? Which didn’t make the cut?

One more note about book lists. You will also find it helpful to include a list of books you want to read. The books that are for pleasure as well as the books which will be useful for your professional or personal growth need to be on this list.

Bargain list

There are certain goodies I want to own. But only if I can get them at a bargain price. Everything from furniture for my secret garden to tickets for concerts goes on this list. Occasionally I go on a bargain hunting trip with list in hand. At other times I happen across an item from my bargain list by happenstance. Either way, the list is useful.

You can include classes you would like to take or trips you would like to make on your bargain list. Services such as window washing or landscaping can also be added to the list.

One way I’ve found to make my bargain list more useful is to be less specific and more general when I make the list. For example, instead of listing a concrete bench I simply say garden furniture. Instead of naming a particular artist or group, I note I would like to attend a live performance.

My bargain list is exclusively for things I want as opposed to things I need. The reason for the distinction is that the list is based on finding bargains. What I need may or may not come to me as a bargain. Things I want can wait until I find the bargain.

Serendipity list

Isn’t it great to get or find something wonderful without even looking for it? And, while most of us don’t stumble upon a bucket of gold in our driveway we all do have our own serendipitous moments.

Your serendipitous finds and events add magical moments to your life. Why not make a list of them so you can return as often as you like.

Money, a monument backed by a sunrise and a misted green valley are all things I’ve come upon serendipitously. My cousin and her husband once found gold bars and old coins inside a wall of a house they were remodeling.

By the way, young children are excellent at noticing serendipitous items and moments. Follow a child and listen, you will be able to make a long list in a short time for your journal.

Remember I said I’d talk more about your grocery and to-do lists? Well, read on.

Grocery list

Putting your grocery list in your journal may seem odd. That is, until you realize the benefits possible by looking back at your lists over a period of time.

You can discover patterns in your shopping and by inference your eating.

You also have a way to help you determine which grocery store is a better bargain for your overall shopping needs. Jot down the prices of the items as you shop and you have a record which can be analyzed. Are the majority of your regular purchases less expensive at one store over another?

And, your descendants will be happy to find you added these bits of information to your journal.

To-do list

By adding your to-do list to your journal you have an excellent start for including the things which happened during your day when you are ready to write in full in your journal.

You also have a nice little list of accomplishments for those days when you wonder where the day went.

Where to go from here

Step 1) Print this page.

Step 2) Put it with your journal.

Step 3) Decide which of these lists seems most important or most fun to you. Then, choose just one to incorporate into your journal this week.

Step 4) Add another of the lists in 2 to 3 weeks.

Step 5 and on) Continue adding items to your original lists. And begin adding another of the lists every 2 to 3 weeks.

None of the lists should take much of your time. The lists will add a new dimension to your journal and, more importantly to your life. Give it a try.


Do you use lists in your journal?

Which are your favorite?

Do you use any of these lists?

Which ones?


As a lover of words, pens, paper and the dictionary I'm a natural for journal writing. But, I wasn't always faithful to the task and had to learn the hard way. Some trial and error as well as input from my journal writing friends helped move me along. I have a burning desire to help people who want to use and get the most out of their journals and diaries. I see journal writing as a self improvement tool and a way to avoid costly mistakes, bad relationships and my stinky-self. Finding my kindly self is part of the journey which keeps me writing. I Journalate and so can you.


  1. I do use lists – but not in my journal. I definitely need to change that after reading your post.
    I have listed options, most recently when making a final decision about divorce. Back then I wasn’t keeping a journal; however, I see a new computer in the not so distant future that it would be handy to explore an option list with, and in my journal instead of on pieces of paper in my purse.
    Gratitude I have listed on and off again. For some reason I am always finding something to be grateful about in the car when I cannot write it down. By the time I get where I’m going I have usually forgotten about it.
    Language – I have not done this in a long time. Years ago when I did secretarial work someone suggested that we write words we are continuously looking up on the first page of the dictionary, which I did and thought it was a marvelous idea. Now my dictionary is online so a list is a super duper idea!
    Books – I run into books I want to get all over the place and they end up getting written down here, there, and everywhere!
    Grocery lists and to-do lists are my biggest list endeavors. I am always writing grocery lists and then I don’t have them with me when I get to the store. Writing things down does help cement things in my mind, but not usually ALL the things. It never fails that I get home and check my list and discover some essential thing I forgot to get.
    My to-do lists lately have things on them that span the last year. Especially with a mother in a nursing facility the things on my to-do list are big things, like get a prepaid funeral, fill out medicaid application forms, talking to doctors, seeing a lawyer about this and that, filing guardianship and conservatorship reports with the court, taxes, and on and on. This list I tend to keep on the refrigerator where it stares me in the eye – although I am pretty good about ignoring it as these are things I have not looked forward to doing.
    The other topics I have not considered for lists before, so you have given me some food for thought. I definitely need to start keeping these lists in my journal that goes everywhere with me.

  2. Sarah,
    Thanks for being so generous in sharing your thoughts about keeping lists.

    Oh, I know exactly what you mean about not being able to write things while driving. That is one of my biggest problems. I have a notebook which I keep in my purse just for capturing those snippets. One thing I’ve found about this solution is I MUST get them out of the notebook and into my journal right away. The reason? If I don’t do it while the memory is fresh I often can’t decipher what I’ve written. Yikes. :)

    Thank you, for the tip about writing words you look up often. That is a great one.

    Yes, forgotten grocery lists can be a pain. If you keep your journal with you all the time and you put the grocery list in it, maybe that will help.

    And, thank you for the addition of another essential list — elder care.

    I appreciate you taking the time to reply with such a well thought out response! :)


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