Review of Make a List by Marilyn McEntyre: Your New Life Beyond the To-Do List

Your New Life Beyond the To-Do List

As one who lives by a list, I have come to appreciate the satisfaction of a neat column of check marks at the end of a day, the faithful reminder to pray or to do or to go, and the convenience of a resource close at hand:
“Didn’t we buy slippers for her last Christmas?”
“Yes, I think so, but let me check the list . . . “

List making is a utilitarian practice that keeps me (mostly) on the rails. However, in Make a List: How a Simple Practice Can Change Our Lives and Open Our Hearts, Marilyn McEntyre has elevated list writing to a creative endeavor, a writing exercise that is partly spiritual formation, partly imaginative play, and partly a recording of the music of one’s own soul. Putting the pen to paper or the fingers to the keyboard, the list maker asks questions, poses possibilities, and frames her desires.

In Word by Word, McEntyre chose fifteen words and challenged readers to discover them anew as “little fountains of grace.” In Make a List, she argues for the life-changing benefits of gathering our words into lists that inspire and challenge.

A List Is a Beginning

When McEntyre began making a list entitled “What Love Looks Like,” she found that the practice opened  her understanding of the monumental definition of love found in I Corinthians 13:

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.”

She remembered her grandfather reading to her and her husband brewing coffee.
She pictured a volunteer chopping carrots in a soup kitchen.
Making a list is the beginning of a wider understanding of an idea that may have become tired or hackneyed, so obvious that you have stopped “seeing” it.

A Mental Exercise Turned Outward

Throughout the book, there are “Lists to Try,” a concept I appreciate, for perhaps every list would not be meaningful to every list maker, but it’s okay to try–in the same way we might try the New York Times crossword puzzle or try juggling three tennis balls in the living room.

A list can solidify a nagging sense of unrest into a concrete “diagnosis.”

  • What are my concerns in this season?
  • What can I let go of?
  • What am I afraid of?

A list of possibilities is the first step toward meaningful change.

Disturbing the Smooth Surface of the Obvious

For six years I have been maintaining a gratitude list, pondering and then scribbling three gifts each day into a small journal. I’m pleased to note that the practice has changed the way I look at the world, but later this year, after I have recorded my 7,000th gift, I want to let that practice rest for a time so I can “try” some new lists. Maybe I will argue with myself in list form or begin compiling a collection of reasons why my faith matters to me. It may be that I will make a case for continuing some of the things I am already doing while at the same time listing some things I want to try.

When a do-list becomes a collection of intentions and hopes, the world becomes larger and the heart opens wider. In a busy life in which action so often precedes thought, the practice of making a list rearranges what we think we know and invites us into a life beyond the obvious. 

Many thanks to William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to If you should decide to purchase Make a List: How a Simple Practice Can Change Our Lives and Open Our Hearts or Word by Word: A Daily Spiritual Practice, simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Trusting for Grace to Live Beyond the To-Do List,

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Michele Morin

Michele Morin is a teacher, blogger, reader, and gardener who finds joy in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles. She has been married to an unreasonably patient husband for nearly 30 years, and together they have four sons, two daughters-in-love, two grandchildren, and one lazy St. Bernard. Michele loves hot tea and well-crafted sentences, poems that stop her in her tracks and days at the ocean with the whole family. She laments biblical illiteracy and advocates for the prudent use of “little minutes.” She blogs at Living Our Days, and you can connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

93 thoughts on “Your New Life Beyond the To-Do List”

  1. Wow! What a unique take on lists. I am just finally getting to the point where I have a manageable to do list that I actually use. I think I’ll start adding a gratitude list at the end of each day (although I know you are transitioning into something more). I’ve been wanting to do it, but at the time I couldn’t even manage my day to day affairs with any consistency.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m a list-maker too, Michele! I make to-do lists, gratitude lists, and lists of what I want to write about for future posts! I love this very strategic approach to honoring God with our lists! A list of how to love my little family well is a precious idea . . . I’m adding this book to the list!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I’m a list maker too, Michele, so this encourages me. And wow! Congrats on listing 7000 things you’re grateful for! I’ve been a bit haphazard of late, so your inspiring work on that list encourages me to get back to my gratitude list as well. Pinning!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. As a list-maker, I know this is a must-have for me. I’m so excited to enlarge my thinking about lists. I keep lists of all kinds of things, including potential gift ideas, but I had never thought of recording gifts I’ve purchased. And I should have because one Christmas I actually bought someone the EXACT same gift as the year before. LOL

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I must admit, Michele, that, unlike you and the commenters, I am not very good at list making. I have tried making grocery lists that often have been inadvertently left at home. Or I remember to take them but still have some unexplained habit of still missing something on the list. Or I go intending to purchase only a few things and come home with a couple of bags full. I have tried to do lists with little more success. It’s discouraging when you don’t see those things checked off while all the time you see other things you need to add. I have tried prayer lists, and then I forget to look at them. I just get caught up in the moment, I guess, with whatever I happen to have on the go. Perhaps I should give it another try. It does certainly make for more order in one’s life. But then, at 73, I’m not sure it isn’t too late to succeed at this task. Have a great day with great lists. 🙂 God bless.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think of lists as a way of thinking out loud, of processing. That way they’re less a “have to,” which adds pressure, and more just a way of getting the ball rolling. I may not do or get everything on my list, but it’s a start in thinking through what I do need to do or get. And anything left on a list at the end of a task or project goes on the next list.


      1. Yes, pouring out the list from the brain to the paper.
        And there are some days when NOTHING on the list gets done, so I just draw an arrow to the next day. Slowly, I am learning not to let that become a point of discouragement for me.


  6. This is a fascinating new perspective on lists. I confess that unlike many, I don’t tend to make lists. (My husband is a big list maker and often they appear on sticky notes on our kitchen table.) For me, lists always felt like demands and I didn’t gain the satisfaction that list makers tend to do. Generally I have a good memory and am pretty self-disciplined and ordered so have not felt a need to rely on this excellent technique. We’ll see what the future holds, but this book does intrigue me thanks to your review. (Your reviews always have that effect on me💕)

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I make multiple lists, too. I have been so thankful for the “Notes” application on my phone, so I can jot things down when I think of them (because I can’t guarantee they’ll come back to mind later…” I have lists of blog posts ideas, lists of what to add to drafts, gift list ideas, etc., etc. A while back while going through some old papers, I was amused to find a list from college days of what I wanted in a husband. 🙂 This book sounds like a different way to look at lists.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I didn’t use to be a lister, but as I get older, I find that lists are necessary. Your gratitude list is wonderful! I started one years ago, writing down one item I was grateful each day. My goal was to get to 1,000. I stalled at around #90 but recently started again. I am now at #189 and counting!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Funny that I should read this today. I just finished writing out my next study guide for my group and came across several lists in the book of Colossians. Not the kind of lists that I think of, like a “must do” list but a “do list” of how to behave, what to set aside and how to respond. This certainly has me thinking differently about lists now!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I love the lists in Colossians. One of my favorites is in chapter 3 where Paul reminds me how to get dressed in the morning: to clothe myself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, all things which do not come naturally for me!


  10. Michele, I so enjoyed this review. I never thought of a list as the beginning of possibilities and change. I tend to view them as pressure, a picture of what yet needs to be done. This post has me thinking about “lists” a bit differently. They may, in fact, become my friend 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I can see how a list could turn into a tyrant. For me, though, I depend on the reliable words recorded on a page, either because there is something I have to do, or something I want to remember and savor!


  11. Love this. I am a big list maker. Nothing makes me happier than a to do list. But everyday I also write a list of things that made me happy that day, things I am grateful for and things that made me feel calm and is has opened my eyes to a happier world #TwinklyTuesday

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Michele, I love the creative and critical thinking skills incorporated in the Make A List book. Your closing paragraph is so compelling: “When a do-list becomes a collection of intentions and hopes, the world becomes larger and the heart opens wider. In a busy life in which action so often precedes thought, the practice of making a list rearranges what we think we know and invites us into a life beyond the obvious. ” amen! Many blessings to you, friend ❤️

    Liked by 2 people

  13. I do love a good list or two, Michele. So thank you for taking this to the next level.

    There’s something about jotting something down on paper that frees up a little more space in my brain. And crossing something off when it’s been accomplished is bliss indeed.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yup, I’m pretty addicted to those check marks. And I’ve even learned that if I’m working on something that needs concentration, I’d better have my list handy so that if something occurs to me, I can just jot it down and get back to business.


  14. I love the idea of making a list to grow faith and to encourage. I definitely put this book on my wishlist for 2019. Thanks for sharing on the #LMMLinkup this week.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Raising my hand as a fellow list maker. In fact, my favorite part is adding something to my list that I already completed so I can check it off.
    I agree the practice of writing three things I’m thankful for is a life-changing list. Congratulations on nearing 7k.
    Thank you for sharing a new perspective on lists.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. I ❤ lists!! But there are no neat check marks for this girl… I get great satisfaction out of scratching through completed items! But I'm challenged by your post to create lists of things I hope never to be done doing…. An interesting concept, for sure! Blessings!

    Liked by 3 people

  17. I’m a list-maker as well, and they usually involve practical things that I need to get done. I like the idea of expanding my natural list-making tendency into deeper thinking and more intentional action. Thanks for sharing this book Michele.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. What a fun and unique book concept! I’m a list lady too. It seems like most anything I’m processing or planning involves a list- write down to “what is contributing to this emotion?” When feelings seem to get the better of me. I’ll be trying some of these list suggestions! May your trying the enlightening and helpful too!

    Liked by 2 people

  19. I love this, Michele. Having 7,000 items on your gratitude list is amazing … what a marvelous record of God’s faithfulness and blessing in your life. The list that means most to me right now is the collection of the names of God that I’m compiling as I read through the Bible. I like the idea of using lists more often to process my thoughts and get to the bottom of things in my heart a little better.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Part of me doesn’t want to stop the counting of gifts, but I can feel it becoming perfunctory, and I want to try some of the new ideas for lists that have been with me for a while as well as some that were suggested in Marilyn’s book. And I really like what you’re doing! Another close relative to that list is to record attributes of God that stand out in Scripture as I read.
      (Can you tell I’m getting excited about this?)


  20. I love lists, and I feel the need to make more as our lives get busier. I’d definitely like to read this book! I do love a gratitude journal too – how wonderful that you have got yours up to 7,000, Michele! Thank you for sharing this post, and for being a part of the Hearth and Soul Link Party. Have a great weekend!

    Liked by 2 people

  21. I am definitely a list maker. I love checking off things as they get done, but sometimes it can backfire if I make too big of a list and can’t finish. 🙂 It does seem like a good idea to try different kinds of lists. I’ve tried a gratitude list off and on for several years but can’t seem to keep it up. Maybe I’ll take it up again. Thanks for sharing your review. It sounds like an interesting book. Blessings to you, Michele!

    Liked by 2 people

  22. Keeping a gratitude list since 2009! Over eleven thousand now! I love list making! I often notice lists in Bible passages and take note of them. This book sounds like it’s for me!

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Yes, another list-maker here! I went crazy with them during my working days. Since I’m at a time in my life that is very quiet and less hectic, the only pen-to-paper lists I keep nowadays are the grocery list and my prayer list. I must confess to using the Sticky Notes app, however, and I use it to keep various lists on my laptop. Old habits die hard. I just added this book to one of those lists!

    Liked by 1 person

  24. I’ve always had a great, photographic memory so my lists were always in my head as well as the checkmarks. However, as I’ve aged, I now do tend to make written lists; especially for grocery or I will omit something that I need. Always a treasure and great info in the Love is Kind scripture. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  25. Lovely blog! I always tend to set unrealistic to-do lists then I am left dissapointed I could not tick all the boxes.
    Instead of a gift list at the end of the day I write an Acheivement List, but I’ll try the Gift list now!


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