List-Making: Your Key To Productivity With Paula Rizzo

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TBT 133 | List Making

There are times when our work requires us to meet impossible deadlines and always being on top of our game. However, sometimes things can get overwhelming that things will fall through the cracks even outside of work. Paula Rizzo was working as a television producer in the local and national news in New York when she experienced this same overwhelm and gap. Discovering list-making as the key to close that gap and helps us get back on track when we get distracted, she started a blog called, which eventually morphed into her two books about list-making. She joins Penny Zenker to talk about list-making, productivity, and taking back your time on today’s podcast.

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List-Making: Your Key To Productivity With Paula Rizzo

On this show, we’re dedicated and I search high and low to find the best people who are going to help you to think and act more strategically. I’m excited to have Paula Rizzo with me. You’ve got to check and see what she’s all about because I can’t even read the list of media that she’s been on, TV shows and all the publicity. She is a media strategist and a productivity author to keep it short. She’s the author of Listful Thinking and Listful Living. Paula, welcome to the show.
Thanks. I’m excited to talk about lists, productivity and taking back your time.
Before we get into that, let’s understand why is this important to you.
My background is in TV production and I spent my career as a television producer. I’m an Emmy Award winner, which is very exciting. I’ve worked in local and national news in New York. Being a television producer means that you have to meet your deadlines no matter what. It’s a focused environment and you have to be on your game. List-making was the key to success there. I realized I wasn’t doing the same things at home, and things were falling through the cracks. That gap there was what pushed me to start a blog. I started a few years ago and that eventually morphed into my two books about list-making.
Leave it to us whenever we have a problem, we need to solve for ourselves, then we start to get good at something like that.
You teach what you most need to learn.
Was there a pivotal moment where you said, “This isn’t working for me?”
Yes. My husband and I were looking for an apartment in New York City, and I was overwhelmed. I would go into apartments and leave. I do not remember anything that I looked at. I have no idea what was going on and be like, “That one had a wine fridge.” I was derailed and I didn’t know what was happening. I decided to look at that task like I would shoot at work if I was going to interview somebody. I would have a list of every question I needed to ask. I would have a list of every shot that I needed to get because even though I was skilled at that job, distractions pop up. Things happen and so I needed that checklist.
When I started to use the checklist for the apartment search, now I’m much more focused. I know what I’m looking for going in and when I come out, I have a tally or a way to compare these things. People started then asking for this list. It was funny in the newsroom they were like, “Can I have that list that you use to get your apartment?” A realtor saw it and he was like, “This is a great idea.” From there I was like, “I think people need a little bit of help.” They’re not thinking in lists this way. They’re not doing this for themselves.
You teach what you most need to learn. Click To Tweet You said a key thing that’s important that I want to highlight. It’s not that you didn’t have the skills. When some people get to a new job and they get a checklist, they think, “Why are you giving me this checklist? I know what to do.” You said it beautifully. We get distracted. It helps us to get back on track faster when we get distracted. I like that you highlighted that for people to get clear how a list can be of service even if you already know what to do.
Doctors, surgeons and pilots use checklists. They’re highly skilled at those jobs, I would hope, but they need that too because things pop up unexpectedly. You want to make sure it’s the same every single time. If that’s the cheat sheet you need to use to make you more efficient, why not?
I asked this question to everybody on the show. How do you define productivity and why?
I define productivity as a way to get the right things done and not just think of getting things done. I want to make sure that I get the right things done. That will make me less stressed at the end of the day. That’s the key. I spent a long time as a health journalist and I have seen what stress can do to people’s body, mind and soul. It can take a toll on you and a lot of that is because of our lists, because of what we put on there and what we’re trying to do in a day. I want people to take a step back and say, “Maybe I don’t have to be doing half of these things on my list. Maybe it’s something I don’t need to be doing myself ever.” It’s this pressure and stress that you put on yourself, and then you’re not getting to the things that you would like to be doing.
You’re seeing this list as a way to evaluate and review what it is that you have to do so that you can also reduce it down.
It is about being intentional about what you put on that list. Every night before I leave my desk, I did this in Corporate America. I do this now that I work for myself. I make that list of what I’m going to do the next day. I only put things on that list that I have the time and the resources to do. As opposed to, “Let me dump everything I’d like to do in the whole wide world, climb Mount Everest, pick up milk, and do this and do that,” too many things, too much. Your brain can’t handle it. It’s unfair to do that to yourself. Be a little bit pickier about what you’re putting on your list, what earns its keep on that list.
This came to me about a year after my first book, Listful Thinking, was published because my appendix burst. It’s a freak thing that should not have happened but it’s very painful. It was not on the list. I pushed back and I was like, “I think it’s food poisoning. I think it’s okay. It’ll be fine.” I waited for two days, which is like an eternity and I had to have emergency surgery. I was in the hospital for eight days. I was out of work for six weeks. It took me a year to recover. When I came back, I was intentional about what went on that list because I knew my priority was health at that point, nothing else. Everything else came off my to-do list. The world still spun and things still got done. Some of your to-do lists is ego. You think you need to be the one doing it. It’s not the case. That was a smart lesson for me. It was a painful lesson but it was a lesson to say, “I need to focus on this list and make sure that the things that are on it are earning their spot there.”
I interviewed somebody around procrastination. He was like, “In order for me to feel good about my list, I put on, ‘I got out of bed, I drink coffee.’” He’s putting all these little things that he does throughout the day just to get some dopamine going as he’s checking that off the list. How do you feel about something like that?
It does work if you need to trick yourself to get into going and doing. I love to procrastinate. People always think, “You must be so organized.” No, I love to wait until the last second. I know what that does to me. Working on TV, you’re waiting to the last fifteen seconds before something is about to happen on the air. You’re still working up until that last second. It’s an exciting thing to wait that long.

TBT 133 | List Making

Listful Thinking: Using Lists to Be More Productive, Successful and Less Stressed

There’s a difference between that being how things are versus you created it.
It’s not sustainable. It’s exciting but it will give you an ulcer. It’s something that you don’t want to keep to yourself. You do not want to do that to yourself chronically. It is a good way to get things going. I have learned to not procrastinate because I don’t like the way I feel at that moment. It’s exciting at first but after a while, you’re like, “I’m too stressed out. Why did I do that to myself?” There are reasons why we procrastinate. There’s a fear of failure. Maybe there are also things you don’t know how to do like your taxes. You don’t know how to do it, so you put it off. Maybe it’s something that you don’t even want to do and it keeps making you feel guilty every time you see it on your list. You need to look at those things that you’re procrastinating chronically.
What do you say? When they’re on the list, then you move it to tomorrow’s list and the next day’s list and so forth. Is that okay with you?
No. It needs to be re-evaluated. You need to know why is it that you’re not doing it. Is it because maybe you don’t have to do it yourself and you need to give it to somebody else? Is it because you can’t do it? It’s never going to happen. If you put something on there like “write a book,” you’re never going to do that. I’m a fast writer but I’m not that fast.
It’s the end goal versus the task. You want to see the tasks that are moving towards those end goals.
Little small wins. Those little small things that I can do. Maybe it is doing some research or creating an outline. That is something you could do in a day. You could do to move forward to that. There are certain things on that list that you were never going to do and it’s okay. Give yourself permission to check it off the list forever and be done with it. There was a woman who I interviewed, her name is Karen Rizzo. We’re not related, but we both love lists. She wrote a memoir in list form. It’s all of her old lists that she kept and found through the years of her life. It’s a fun read. She always had learned Italian on that list and even on the last page. When I talked to her, I said, “Did you do it? Did you learn Italian?” She said, “I never learned. It was making me guilty. I felt terrible that I finally took it off the list and I’m so much happier.” Sometimes we need to do that. We need permission to say, “It’s okay that you’re not going to learn Italian. No problem. Get over it.”
What about the fact that we need something to dream about? Learning Italian might mean that she could go to Italy and learn Italian there. Maybe there’s more juice behind it. Isn’t that okay to have some things on our list or our radar that we want to aspire to?
Yes, but you have to be completely aligned with it. Even with her, she wasn’t aligned with it. She didn’t care. She thought that she did but she didn’t.
If she did, she would have done it.
Productivity is getting the right things done that will make you less stressed at the end of the day. Click To Tweet We make time for the things that we truly want to do. People always are like, “I don’t have enough time to do this. I have no time to do that.” How much of a priority is it for you?
It’s a total excuse. If I give you tickets to your favorite band in the backseat, VIP tickets, and your day is slammed, you’re going to figure out a way to get to that concert and cancel everything. That’s a good point. I love this getting people to step back and re-evaluate. I’m all about that as well. What do you think are some of the myths or the challenges that people face around doing quality lists?
We’re our own worst enemy a lot of the time. We set ourselves up for failure all the time. If you take a step back and say, “What is my mindset around the day?” If you’re starting your day in a frantic way, you think you don’t have enough time, you’re never going to get it all done, that is what your day is going to be. You’re going to have that kind of day, but for people to step back and realize that about themselves and say, “I keep saying that I don’t have enough time. I keep saying that I’m too busy.” Are you really too busy? Is this a story that you constantly tell yourself and it puts you in a different mindset?
That’s the energy. I heard somebody say that you set the weather. That’s what it is. This is your weather report and the energy that you’re putting towards everything you do. I always say also, it’s how you show up for the time that you have that’s going to make all the difference between whether you’re productive and you get those things done on your list or whether you get to the end of the day and you’re like, “I didn’t get anything done.”
Perspective and its perception is reality. One of the things in my second book, Listful Living, that I have people do is to do an audit of how do you feel at the end of the day. When are you your most stressed? What is around you? What were you doing and why were you doing it? Then evaluating, do you need to be doing those things? Are those things that you want to continue to do? Now that people have gone through this pandemic, we’ve gone through this crazy time together and everyone is now re-evaluating what’s important. What am I going to continue to put on my list or continue to aspire to be or to do? It’s changing.
We’re more distracted than ever. We already came into the pandemic completely distracted. There was this statistic that I saw that 60% of the people felt completely physically depleted and mentally gone. We’re closer to probably 90% because of riots, politics, pandemic, illness, kids, working from home and all this stuff. There are many distractions. I would think that making this part of your daily practice is that much more important so that you can stay focused.
It takes 23 minutes to reset once you’ve been distracted. That’s a long bit of time. That’s a big chunk when you’re in the middle or you’re doing your thing and you get distracted, “Where was I? What was I doing?” What I tell people to do is to have a distraction placeholder and I put this on my to-do list. If you go to, you’ll get my List-Making Starter Kit. It has how I make my lists every single day and it’s very specific. On the left side, I put everything I need to do for work, on the right side, all my home to-do’s. The bottom left is my distraction placeholder. If I get distracted, before I jump into the distraction, I’ve now trained myself to pause and write down what I was in the middle of doing. It takes a lot of practice to be able to do that and stop yourself and be mindful, but it helps.
You can get back into it quickly.
The laundry went off or somebody is at the door or whatever is going on, you sit back down and it’s like, “What was I in the middle of doing?” Instead of trying to figure that out and then getting distracted by Facebook or a new email that you just got in, and never getting back to the original thing, have it written down. Have it tact there so you can say, “I was writing that email. Let me do that.” You start to train yourself to get back into that mode so that even if you get distracted, it’s not the end of the world.

TBT 133 | List Making

List Making: There are certain things on your list that you were never going to do, and it’s okay. Give yourself permission to check it off the list forever and be done with it.

It’s important because we have to face that we do get distracted. Having strategies like that help us to get back into things more quickly. To give the readers another way to look at it, the way that I structure my lists is in categories. You did too work at home, but I will separate out into buckets some of the higher categories of work. As an entrepreneur, I’ve got different hats. I’ve got marketing on there. I’ve got a delegation and things that I need to delegate every day which is my favorite thing to do every morning. I feel like I’m already super productive because I gave away something and I know I’m going to get it back. Things like that. I’ll have a client work as one bucket. Usually, I’ll have about 6 or 7 buckets, and then the top to-do things is my weekly to-do list.
I do it daily. For me, it needs to be fresh every day.
I have a second list, which is my daily list. I’ll identify in that weekly list what things need to be done in each day. That helps to keep me focused on the day but I also know what I need to focus on for the week.
It’s all about tapping into your own productivity style as well. I always tell people, don’t become a morning person if you’re not a morning person. It doesn’t work. I know there are all these productivity experts out there who will tell you, “Everybody is getting stuff done at 4:00 AM.” Good for them. It makes me cranky. That is not what I do. I am very specific about when I can start working and what I do. I get up in the morning and I like to have me-time. I like to do yoga, meditate, read the newspaper, and drink some tea. That’s how I want to start my day and then I’ll be ready to start working with clients, doing media or doing whatever it is that I’m doing for the day. I like to do that first. A lot of times, I tell people think about what you’d like to do before lunch or after lunch, and then stack your day that way.
Do you do theme days of the week?
I do a bit. Usually, I take Mondays for myself as a starter day to look at the week. When we used to meet with people in person, I would have a lot of lunches, meet people for drinks or whatever it was on Mondays, which is my connection day. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday are the days that I meet with clients, I do media or whatever it is that I’m doing. Fridays, I keep for creativity. Friday is my day for writing. I’m in the middle of writing a novel. I meet with a writing partner. We meet every Friday. We say hello. We put ourselves on mute on Zoom. We do Pomodoro, so we write for 25 minutes of targeted time and then we stop. We say, “How did it go? Do you want to keep going?” If yes, we set another 25 minutes and we write again. It’s a good way to keep consistent, to have the accountability of someone there and to also have those little focused pockets of work time.
That seems to be the thing that I noticed first in the kids. They connect over on FaceTime or whatever program, then they do their homework. They chat a little bit here and there in between. It does help to have that other person on the line. Whatever it does, it is that accountability that they’re going to get stuff done and you’re going to get stuff done. Do you guys set a goal for each 25 minutes segment of writing and then come back and say whether you reach that goal? How do you structure that?
We’re working on completely different things. She’s working on a memoir. I’m working on a novel. We’ll talk about what kind of scene we’re writing or what we think we’re going to write and then we do that. I’ve been in other writing circles before where we do set a goal for how many words do you want to write. We’re a little more loosey-goosey with it, but we do talk about setting the intention. What are you going to write? It’s not like you’re sitting there staring at a blank page. You already know. That’s the whole point with writing a book. Many people will ask, “How do you write a book?” For me, it’s these little micro things or tiny little pieces. Every Friday I’m like, “This is the scene that I want to write or this is what happens next.” I know going in that’s what I’m going to write. I’m not going to sit there and think about what I’m going to write. I’ve already done that work ahead of time.
What’s your go-to tool? If everything got deleted off of your workspace, what’s the first thing that you would add back outside of office and that kind of stuff?
We make time for the things that we truly want to do. Click To Tweet I don’t know. Email of course, that’s boring.
Outside of email, Excel, Word or whatever. There’s maybe a tool that you use that’s a shortcut or that you take notes on that you use every day.
I do love voice memos and voice notes. It’s my new favorite thing and video. As a video producer and media trainer, I’m always encouraging everyone to do video, to do more of it, and to show your personality and all of that. I do a lot of video, voice memos, and notes for people. If I can’t meet with you in person, I will go to Vidyard, which is a program where you can create a quick video and send somebody a link, then you’re able to talk to them, which I find to be great. I use Voxer, which is for audio notes. You can send a note to somebody. I find that to be so productive because a lot of times, I procrastinate on writing back to people, writing back to emails, and writing back to texts. It’s like, “I have to think about what I’m going to say and there’s a link I want to send,” then you don’t do it. For me, if I can get on video because I’m comfortable with it and say, “Here’s what I think.” If someone’s asking me for a recommendation for someone, I’ll be like, “She’s great and here’s why.” I’m able to tell them this way. It’s much easier to get that done. I would suggest either of those tools because I think they’re great.
I do think that there is something about voice, of picking up the phone and having that quick conversation versus the text or sending the voice message. It gives you permission not to be perfect with it. Somehow when we’re writing an email or something, we’ve got this perfectionism bug like, “You’ve got to do this. You’ve got to say the right thing and do the right thing.”
Also, how has the tone come across? It could seem like you’re blowing someone off when you’re not. If I write an email and be like, “Unfortunately, I can’t meet today.” That gets received and someone’s like, “Oh.” If I’m on a voicemail, I’m like, “I’m so sorry I can’t meet today. I wish that I could but I won’t be able to do it. Send me an email instead.” That’s a different way of communicating.
They get the whole thing. I like the voice memo. I don’t use it as much as I like it. I’m going to use this card to remind myself that it’s an easy and efficient way. I do use the voice part for my texts, but you know what happens there. There are all sorts of mistakes like Siri rewords it. I can’t get it because I’m bad with that, and then people are like, “What?”

TBT 133 | List Making

Listful Living: A List-Making Journey to a Less Stressed You (Gift for Stressed Working Women and Fans of Listful Thinking

When you’re used to dictating your texts and you’re saying it in a different way, then you’re actually leaving the memo. A lot of times people will have a robot voice. It does take a little bit of time. I do a lot of media training with people. I trained in a sales team that was used to leaving a lot of messages on the phone. They go into their spiel and they sound a little robotic because they’ve said it a million times. When they were doing video, they sounded like robots. I was like, “Guys, listen to yourselves. It sounds robotic.” They’re like, “That’s how we leave messages.” They’re like, “We never realized that.” I was like, “Everybody needs to calm down and let their personalities come through a little bit.”
Have you ever made the mistake where you were leaving a message, but you thought you were dictating like your brain glitch on you and you said “period” at the end of the sentence? If you’re doing it, makes sure that you’re present with what you’re doing and you’re not doing that. Even though you’ll get a laugh out of it, it’s not good. Any last thoughts that you want to leave the group with? I know you’ve got to give away that I want you to share.
Don’t be hard on yourself. We’re so hard on ourselves that we look at that list and we’re like, “We didn’t do this and I didn’t do that.” Give yourself a break. You need to be able to say, “I’m not going to do this and it’s all right. I’m going to get over myself, no big deal.” Put something on there that you really want to do. That will make you feel excited and happy about it. If you go to, I have a List-Making Starter Kit, tips and tricks on how to be more productive and less stressed.

Thank you so much for being here.
Thanks for having me.
Thank you all for being here and making a list of the things that you’re going to do after this show. That includes going to Paula’s website, downloading her list, and getting your list strategy together so that it can help you be more focused and block out distractions, and also some of the other tips that we talked about. Thank you for being here. We’ll see you in the next episode.

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About Paula Rizzo

TBT 133 | List MakingAs a best-selling author and Emmy-award winning television producer for nearly 20 years, I’ve produced health, wellness, and lifestyle segments with a range of top experts, including JJ Virgin, Jillian Michaels, and Deepak Chopra. I served as senior health producer for Fox News Channel in New York City for over a decade. Today, I work with experts, authors, and entrepreneurs on how to position themselves for media (traditional as well as blogs and podcasts), build their lists, and engage customers and fans for their brands, books and businesses.

I’m also the co-creator of Lights Camera Expert  – an online course geared towards helping entrepreneurs, authors and experts get media attention.

I created the productivity site and am the best-selling author of Listful Thinking: Using Lists to be More Productive, Highly Successful and Less Stressed, which has been translated into 12 languages and has been featured on many media outlets including Fox News, Fox Business, Prevention, Business Insider, Entrepreneur, Brides and made it on’s list of “Self Help Books That Actually Help.”

My latest book: Listful Living: A List-Making Journey to a Less Stressed You will be published in the Fall of 2019.

I’m a regular speaker, and presented the keynote address for New York Women in Communications, and have presented at MA Conference for Women, Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO), American Society of Association Executives, and others.

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