Inspired by the simple unassuming beauty of a well-crafted grocery list

– Field Notes back inside cover

The list.

Lists are powerful technology.

In his book Moonwalking with Einstein, Joshua Foer likens early writing to sheet music for story-telling.

Scripto continua had zero punctuation—even lacking spaces between words. This dearth of punctuation meant (Foer argues) that ancient writing was little more than a mnemonic device for remembering stories. Reading silently to yourself was difficult and uncommon.

Today punctuation abounds. And lists are the ultimate in punctuation technology, enabling you to read text at a glance.

Umberto Eco, working as a librarian in residence at the Library of Congress, went further, arguing lists created modernity.

But I think it’s more than just lists—it’s lists you run into again.

Inboxes are only useful when they’re drained

Reliable inboxes are powerful because they let us Close open loops and focus on the work itself, rather than on meta-work.

– Andy Matuschak, Inboxes only work if you trust how they’re drained

The power of the well-crafted grocery list goes unrealized when you leave it at home.

There’s a principle in Gestalt psychology called Zeigarnik Effect—named after the psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik.

An incomplete task, Zeigarnik observed, was more readily recalled than a completed task. Zeigarnik also discovered a cure to this affliction: If you write it down, you can forget it.

But, for me, that’s not enough. I have to trust that I’ll run into it again.

If my email inbox is stuffed, it means I’ve lost trust in my TODO list, leading me to keep unread emails around just in case.

This is the core of David Allen’s Getting Things Done. Allen preaches the practice of a weekly review, where you review your TODO list, your “someday/maybe” list, and your calendar once a week to ensure you stay on track.

If you make a list. And you never review it. You’ll never trust it.

The only well-crafted grocery list is the one you have at the store.