An inexpensive (and fun!) way to get a handle on your life, your career and your dreams Most things you do to make yourself either a better or more marketable actor require money and/or time, not to mention other people.

But there's one thing you can do anytime and any place, while exercising or standing in line at the post office or enjoying a cup of your favorite beverage, that will make you a better, stronger, more focused actor: make lists.

This ain't news, of course; Julia Cameron encourages the use of lists in her landmark book, The Artist's Way, as do many other creativity coaches, teachers and programs. If you're an obsessive organizer like I am, you're probably already making lists either for fun or to relieve anxiety.

If you're a normal person, however, one whose list-making has heretofore been reserved for grocery shopping or #$@* holiday cards, you're in for a real education on the mighty power of the humble list.

In my extensive travels, I've identified three main types of lists:

  • The organizational device
  • The mapping device
  • The creative device

First, some list nuts and bolts

A list is only as useful as it is easy to use. Decide upfront if you're an electronic or analog type, and choose your tools accordingly.

I used to keep lists on paper, first in a notebook designated for that purpose, later in my day planner.

These days, I keep my lists in text files. That way, they're readable from most digital devices, (although on my nano, so they're really, really hard to read!). You can also email them to yourself; if you use a web-based service like Yahoo or gmail, they're just a computer away.

Now, why do you want these lists handy? Easy, they're your lifeline. Crazed? Pressed for time? Let the list do the heavy lifting. Miserable, unable to remember why you got into this crazy business? Turn to your lists. Lost focus? Overly focused? Too many ideas, not enough time? Lists, lists, lists.

The list as organizational device

Have you ever showed up at an audition without:

  • The right address?
  • Your agent's number?
  • A headshot or resume?
  • The session number you're in, or role you're reading for?
  • The audition clothes you needed for the day?

Once you introduce the checklist into your life, these little issues tend to go away, taking with them ginormous amounts of stress.

You can make a checklist for anything you do repeatedly. Write out your list by hand and make copies, or create a text file, and just print out as needed. Then, the next time you go to do your Stupid Repetitive Task, you'll be able to whip through it without thinking.

Some examples might be:

The travel checklist, if you travel a lot, whether for work or pleasure, these are indispensable. List all the things you know you'll need (or want) on the road, like:

  • Clothes
  • Toiletries
  • Medications
  • Reading/writing/viewing material
  • Snacks (in case of flight delays, which NEVER happen)
  • Address book
  • Computer/gadgetry/chargers
  • Etc.

If you regularly go to different places with different climates, make multiple lists. Embrace the nerdery! The nerdery will save your bacon!

The "My Car is a Gigantic, Metal Purse" checklist, If you live in L.A., this is critical! (New Yorkers, substitute "day-bag" list.)

  • Thomas guide (Mapquest is not infallible)
  • Tissues/napkins/er, "ladystuff"
  • Water
  • Snacks (have you noticed that I get hungry a lot?)
  • Quarters! Quarters! Quarters!
  • Pen and paper, for notes
  • Voice recorder, for when it's not safe to write and a great idea strikes [UPDATE 6/14: or, of course, a smartphone]
  • Etc.

And yes, a grocery checklist, we all have stuff we get every time. Leave the list on the fridge, then check stuff off as you run out, and add stuff you need less frequently by hand. No more forgetting vitamins at Trader Joe's!

The other type of organizational list that's equally handy and a little more fun is the running list. I keep lists of all kinds of stuff I want to read, see, eat and do. Pretty much anything I think up goes on a list. Some self-explanatory examples are:

  • Movies/shows to watch
  • Books to buy/get from library
  • Restaurants/recipes to try
  • Classes to check out
  • Etc.

Of course, these are workhorse lists. Hopefully, we'll be addressing lists that are more creative and fun in coming months.

But being organized (at least, minimally organized) is the foundation that will let you build your crazy-beautiful house. Because you're automating the task, getting stuff out of your head and freeing precious mental RAM for the important stuff—like acting!