How to Harness the Stress-Busting Power of Lists


How to Harness the Stress-Busting Power of Lists

There are a million reasons to keep a journal: to organize your thoughts, to help you remember your days, to mellow your mind when things are busy, to feel even marginally better during times of personal strife. But if you’re not in the habit, daily journaling can feel more like a chore than a relief or a pleasure.

Laura Rubin, the founder of AllSwell—a company that hosts writing workshops and makes beautiful paper journals—might have the answer. Drop the long-form journaling (for now), and make a list.

The way Rubin makes a list is a bit of an art. But the beauty of it is that there’s no obligation to put together a narrative or write even a single complete sentence. It doesn’t take much time if you don’t want it to, and can be an effective a way to organize chaos, relieve stress, or round out a half-formed idea.

List-Making to Set Intentions,

Jump-Start Creativity, and Ease Stress

Our inner voice is such a strong ally, and a simple analog practice of writing for a few minutes a day can help you tap into that. Now more than ever, our sponges are so full; we need a place to reconnect with how we feel about things, feel out what’s true to us, and help us determine what comes next.

I often hear, “Oh, I don’t journal, but I make to-do lists.” Why not elevate the humble to-do list? It is an organizing principle, sure, but a list can also be a really wonderful, accessible way of digging into a subject that might otherwise be unwieldy. If there’s particular area that you’re looking to workshop in your own life—but you’re having trouble writing about it or even getting in touch with it—start with a list.

A list can also combat writer’s block if you’re overwhelmed by the enormity of the project. Sometimes starting with a list is a way to work with sentence fragments and little pieces of thoughts. And then, once you start creating that list and your faucet’s turned on, you can start bringing some of those ideas together.

These are my favorite ways to harness the power of a list:

  1. To set intentions. At the start of a new season, make a list of all of the things that you associate with that season, and use it as a way of mapping out some of the elements that you want to bring to the next three months of your life. Perhaps there are favorite memories and moments you associate with that season. Maybe there are some things that you would like to repeat or others that you would like to do differently. Experiences that you want to foster. Listing these out is a way of connecting with this particular time in your life and with the significance of shifting from one season to the next.

  2. To jump-start creativity and organization. Say there’s a new project you’re working on and you’re feeling overwhelmed with the enormity of it. It might be a screenplay or a project that you’re assigned for work or something that you’re doing for your child’s school. Whatever it is, instead of starting with the big picture, start with a list. It doesn’t have to be a to-do list necessarily.

    Instead, the point is to organize your thoughts in bullet format and just see what comes out. This helps break an enormous project down into more manageable pieces and also gets your creative flow going. Good ideas you weren’t expecting often pop up here.

  3. To relieve stress. One of my tools for anxious moments is a sensory check. If I’m feeling overwhelmed—maybe I’m jet-lagged, or maybe I’m overscheduled—I take five minutes or even less to list out specific things I’m experiencing. What am I seeing? What am I smelling? What am I feeling? What does the chair feel like underneath me? What do my feet feel like on the ground?

    Practicing sensory mindfulness and writing down what you notice forces you to slow down. Not only are you connecting to your senses and being present in the moment, but you also have to slow down your thoughts to match how quickly your hand can move across the page. It removes a whole layer of static, and I feel much more focused and centered afterward.

Laura Rubin is the founder of AllSwell and the founder and creative director of Left Left Right Consulting. In addition to making notebooks for writing and drawing, AllSwell runs workshops intended to unplug creativity and connect communities through journaling.