We love lists.

They help us organise our day, our books, our experiences, our folios, our clients, and a thousand other little, and not so little, things.

I’ve always found that keeping lists helps me feel as if I have some control over the chaos of life.

There’s been a few that I’ve been either keeping, or meaning to keep more regularly, for the last few years and I thought it worth listing them for you.

1. A Per-job Ideas List

When we begin a job we often run through a mental list of words. They’re lists punctuated with other thoughts, but we think about colour and may decide that a set of earthy colours are needed, which is immediately followed by a list of possible options – brown, dark green, dark red.

Getting these down on paper means your mind can let go of them, and as you work through the jobs, more colours can be added.

But it isn’t just colour – the same could be said of typefaces – I’m sure you’ve had the same experience as me when it comes to picking typefaces. You open up a number of options, figure out which one works best and start using it. Then after a few days you realise it isn’t quite working and go back to one of the earlier ones you had looked at and it’s a perfect fit.

Having a list of your options earlier means less leg work later.

Besides design elements, a list of outcomes and dates, a list of stakeholders and their phone numbers and email, a list of people working on what element, are all handy things to have when starting a job.

2. A List of Your Wins

There’s a couple ways to look at this – you could either have a list of the client acknowledged wins (those “great work!” emails) or a list of the showed-the-client wins.

Acknowledgement wins seems egotistical, and frankly, that’s the point.

This is something an ex-manager of mine started our studio doing. It wasn’t so that we could show how great we are or to gloat or anything of the kind. It was because of the bad emails, feedback, and insane changes we’d sometimes get. The kinds that are a kick to the stomach.

Have a folder with a few ‘great work’ emails can be a way to keep you going and motivated, knowing that whatever feedback rough patch you’re going through is an isolated incident.

But the showed-the-client wins? Oh this is a good one.

Keep a list of all the times you were able to show a client why your work works.

Maybe there’s a button or a rule or a font size or something that a client has questioned you on. I mean really drilled you on, not simple asked and then accepted your answer. Maybe you’ve had one of these incidents and have been able to educate the client and show why you’re the professional you are.

It isn’t to gloat, but to show you patterns. Perhaps you’ll start to notice the same questions keep being raised when you show proofs – it gives you the opportunity to get ahead of them.

Most clients will question typography – being able to address them at the start of a pitch meeting means you’re cutting the clients fears off early, rather than letting them tint their perception for the entire pitch.

3. A List of Your Failures.

These are your failures. Not the times the client thinks you failed, but the time you think you failed. It isn’t a list of jobs that were rejected, or anything like that (though that might be handy, too).

This is a list for the times you said the wrong thing in a client meeting. Maybe not something anybody noticed or was offended by, but something that took the conversation in a direction you didn’t want to go.

Or perhaps it’s for when you over-explained an element of your work, and you could see the client’s eyes glaze over.

It also works for your process. Do you find that you spent way too much time in the early development phase of a job? Add it to the list – that’s something to keep an eye on later.

It isn’t some sort of method to make yourself feel miserable. It becomes a to-do list. Or perhaps, a to-don’t list. Keeping track of these little things will hurt too precious an ego, but it’ll strengthen any one who wants to be better than they are – a more effective designer.

4. Your Most Important Pieces of Work

Don’t over think it, just include the classic design pieces that made you want to be a designer. Those few items that you still think about, that still make you quiver with excitement.

I’m amazed by how returning to a few select pieces of design, I’m invigorated as if it were the first time I’m seeing them.

One of the joys of food is that it can be transforming and transport us from our kitchen as an adult to our family dining table as a child.

For designers I think the same can be said for the work that we loved when we were childish in experience and skill.

5. A Schedule of Breaks.

I’ve found that for creative effort to be most effective, I need limitations. That could be the page size, or it could be limiting myself to one typeface. The boundaries breed cleverness within them.

The most precious thing we have is time, and to waste it digs at my mind. Keeping a daily schedule helps give my activities boundaries.

A calendar event is just a list item with a time next to it.

The smallest trick I know of is to schedule in your breaks. Having these on a calendar means forcing yourself to stop, and gives you a natural goal in your day to have something finished by.

Coffee coming at 10:30am? Then aim to get this proof off by then.

Put in email checking time – something later in the day, so you’re less tempted to be checking it when you first get to your desk.

Put in some reading and research time. More than what you’d normally do – an hour in the middle of a Thursday can be exactly what you need to boost your energy for the last day and a half of the week.

Too many items for a day will lead to fracturing time and a trusted mind, but a couple a day can make a huge difference. Plus having a time during which no meeting can be booked because you’ve already got your calendar for your 20-30 minute daily coffee break is an incredible relief.