Inspiration, Stories

The foundation of all prolific creative thinkers? Making a list.

“Make a list and check it the same time every day. That way, your mind can be free to work and solve problems,” and in my case, create. My grandfather is the one who imbued me with this very wisdom when I was young. And ever since then, I have done exactly that. Not because I am extraordinarily disciplined, but out of pure and extreme necessity. I mean, I am forgetful. As a creative thinker, I can become too occupied with writing a headline or concepting an ad, while forgetting to complete some of my other everyday tasks.

Which is why I believe creating lists are the foundation of all prolific creators. Insert snickering here…

Let’s admit it: we all know people that walk around with their heads in the clouds. The ones that forget their anniversary with their spouse. But, they are also the ones that come up with ideas that can change mankind. While I would like to be one of those guys, I also have to be concerned with getting our client’s ad out in time, hitting payroll for my employees, and remembering my own wedding anniversary. Hey, I know we all have smartphones that remind us, but we still have to add it in as a calendar event.

My wife, the smart one, has the ability to carry around an amazing amount of data in the easy-to-access part of her brain. But once, when she was especially overwhelmed, I immediately went into ‘make a list’ mode. We were in the car and the only thing handy was the back of an envelope. I began to quiz her about every item on the top of her mind. There were quite a few interesting items occupying her valuable “thinking” space at the same time: her fall wardrobe, a birthday card she needed to buy and a huge tax case, plus a slew of other things.

So, after we created the initial list, we started to prioritize it together. We used my grandfather’s advice and wrote everything down. Then, we leveraged a little Steven Covey advice, too. He put his lists into four buckets:

  • Important and Urgent – Crises and Emergencies.
  • Important but Not Urgent – Prevention, Planning, and Improvement.
  • Not Important but Urgent – Interruptions and Busy Work.
  • Not Important and Not Urgent – Time Wasters.

(Sidenote: Here is a great article that was written after Steven Covey died.)

This method helped to de-stress my wife and get her thoughts back in order. It was so effective that now, anytime that someone I know gets overwhelmed with their work, we have an “envelope session.” We use this technique at Crobar | Creative Leverage almost every day so we can be better, and more efficient, creative thinkers. I couldn’t even be here comfortably writing this blog without the security of my list nearby. I glance at it from time to time throughout the day, and it reassures me that everybody I care about is taken care of, as well as myself.

Oh, that reminds me. I need to go to the grocery store later today — better add it to my list.

Todd Kinley

J. Todd Kinley

Founder | Executive Creative Director: Crobar Creative Leverage. Husband, Father, and Moose owner. Lover of art, photography, golf, and strategy. Follow me: