Pro tips Q&A with author & productivity expert Paula Rizzo

by Myelle Lansat
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Pro tips Q&A with author & productivity expert Paula Rizzo

Paula Rizzo, author of “Listful Living: A List-Making Journey to a Less Stressed You,” has been writing about list making for nearly a decade, which may be the secret sauce behind her success as an award-winning TV producer, entrepreneur and author. This week we asked Paula how list making can help you reach your financial goals.

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This interview has been lightly edited for style and clarity.


How can making lists help people accomplish financial tasks?

In my first book, “Listful Thinking: Using Lists to be More Productive, Highly Successful and Less Stressed,” I interviewed Joe Duran, who is now the managing director of Goldman Sachs personal financial management and also the author of “The Money Code.” He loves lists and checklists just as much as I do and he told me that taking the emotions out of finances makes all the difference. A checklist will do that because it’s a non-threatening way to process information.

Why is taking the emotion out of financial tasks important?

I think so many people have problems when coming to terms with their finances, wanting to look at their bottom line or being afraid to look at their bank account. Having a list takes that emotion out of it. It's just data. You look at it in a different way and it doesn't have to be so emotional. For example, with Joe Duran, he does this with his wife every Saturday, they have a checklist of what they have to talk about financially, and the key is knowing that it’s coming up and will be dealt with, so you don’t have to feel nervous about it all week. You can do this with yourself by creating a check-in with yourself once a week or month. And that method was a game changer for me.

How have you used list making to achieve your own financial goals?

One thing was making a list of things I know I’m not great at, but had to get done. One of those things was bookkeeping. Now that I’m running a business, I need someone else to handle the finances, so I decided to outsource it. Making a list of things I needed, but wasn’t so great at, was really helpful in making that decision.

How did you become an expert in listmaking?

I started a blog ListProducer.com nine years ago, and it came from this quirky habit of being a list maker and realizing other people love lists too, and some people didn't make them as well as they could. I realized I could be helpful to people and build on that, then two books came out of it and a LinkedIn learning course. I think it comes from identifying something that comes easily to me that might not come easily to other people and being able to share it.

Was there an ‘aha’ moment for you & list making?

When my husband and I were looking for an apartment in New York City, I was distracted and didn't know what questions to ask. I realized it was because I didn't have a checklist. So I treated that task like I would a video shoot at work in my job as a TV producer. Whenever I interviewed someone for my job I'd have a list of questions that I wanted to ask and a list of shots I'd need to get. I'd done that job for years and I knew what I was doing but having the checklist helped to keep me efficient when distractions popped up. I started applying the same list-making principles that helped me become a successful producer to all aspects of my life and it really changed my life.

I'd always made lists for work but it was that moment that really helped me to kick it into high gear and what prompted me to start ListProducer.com that eventually became my books “Listful Thinking” and “Listful Living.”

Crossing items off your list is much harder than adding them. How can people stay motivated to accomplish tasks?

Accountability is key and that can come from being mindful when writing your list every day. Asking yourself what you have the time and the resources to do is very important. Your daily to-do list should not include bucket list items or things you wish you could do. Be realistic and actionable. This will set you up for success.

Writing something down will make you more likely to achieve it and that is the same whether you write something like “pick up milk” or “write 600 words for an article.” Also, tell someone what your plans are, that will keep you accountable to actually get it done.

It may feel like we have too much time on our hands because of the pandemic. Why is it important to track our time, especially now?

Most people don’t think in seconds but I want you to try. As a television producer, I know exactly what 30 seconds or a minute feels like. Most people have a warped perception of time. I also know how long it takes me to do certain tasks, because I’ve timed myself over and over again. It’s critical to know exactly how long tasks will take you so you don’t waste your precious moments. So often people think, “Oh, this will just take five minutes,” and then it takes 45. Knowing what you can accomplish in a block of time will keep you motivated and help you get the right things done.

There’s also two camps of people - the “I’m so busy” and the “I’m so bored” and tracking your time will help with both. The truth is that neither of those statements is actually true. They’re just perceptions of reality. You’re only as busy or as bored as you allow yourself to be. So it’s important to track when you’re actually doing things that matter and when you’re spinning your wheels and being idle.

What are the listmaking dos and don’ts?

I like daily lists so I make my list every night before I leave my desk. It’s the last thing I do and now that I work for myself, I exercise mindfulness because when you think about the things you really want to get done tomorrow. When it comes to time and resources, it’s important to be very specific. You want to have a list with action words, but you don’t just want to write “send email,” be specific and write “send Emma an email about the workshop.” That way you’ll know exactly what you need to do and won’t get distracted or diverted.

It’s also important to have fun things on your list too, things that will make you feel happy and recharged. Sometimes it does take a minute to sit down and think about the hobbies you’d like to indulge in if time was no object. Take those things and plug them into your day so you have a stress reliever and good things to do on your list.

What’s your current money goal & how are you working toward it?

I’d like to make a million dollars. I’m planning and making lists of ways to achieve that goal. Stay tuned!

What are you most proud of, financially?

Paying off my school loans early. I doubled up on payments towards the end to get it done! I thought that was pretty smart at the time to get that stress off my plate.

What’s the best money you’ve ever saved?

My husband and I saved for a trip to Greece last year for our 10-year wedding anniversary. It was magical! And we are even more grateful for it now that we’re not able to travel as freely because of the coronavirus pandemic.

What’s the best financial advice you’ve ever received?

My dad has always said, “You can always make more money” and it’s so true. I love the idea of living in abundance. We’re actually very entrepreneurial people so I’m always thinking up new inventions or business ideas. I don’t obviously act on them all but it’s nice to know that it’s ingrained in me to jump into action if needed.

Image: Nastia Kobzarenko