The Life-Changing Magic of Making Lists (Just Ask a Sentinel)

Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a personal assistant to keep track of the seemingly endless number of tasks that we must complete on a daily basis. For many of us, keeping a list, whether digitally on a smartphone or simply scribbled down on a scrap of paper, is an essential part of our routine.

To see if there might be a link between list-making and personality type, we asked our readers whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement, “You like making to-do lists for yourself.”

We found our readers to be quite divided on the topic; to-do lists, it seems, are something people love or hate. And that division all came down to one aspect of our personalities: the Tactics aspect. Respondents with the Judging trait were 34% more likely to enjoy making to-do lists than those with the Prospecting trait (81% vs. 47% agreeing, respectively). This makes sense, of course, because the Tactics aspect determines how we approach work and how we make plans, and Judging personality types tend to be highly structured and organized. The Observant and Feeling traits also had some influence on our readers’ responses, but not nearly to the extent that the Judging trait did.

Let’s examine each Role’s relationship to list-making in more detail below.

Roles

Sentinels (81% agreeing)

Since Sentinels are the only Role in which every personality type shares the Judging trait, it might be expected that this Role was the most likely to love list-making. Staunch proponents of order and organization, Sentinels tend to excel at administrative tasks that require meticulous attention to detail, but this ability does not come without effort. Indeed, while Sentinels may devote more attention than others to ensuring that no necessary task goes undone, they may also feel that they can’t simply rely on mental notes alone. More technologically inclined Sentinels may have all manner of apps and bookmarked websites designed to keep track of their workflow, but even Luddite Sentinels are bound to have a checklist close at hand.

Diplomats (62%)

Although the Intuitive side of Diplomats may sometimes resist the idea of sticking too rigidly to a predetermined list of activities, many Diplomat personality types may be concerned that forgetting a task – especially one that affects others, such as remembering to pick up a partner’s dry-cleaning on the way home from work – could disrupt the harmony that they work so diligently to create in their lives. Their Feeling trait makes them quite sensitive to such matters. A to-do list, then, may be a way for Diplomats to rein in their dreamier, more chaotic inclinations. This proved to be especially true for Diplomat personalities with the Judging trait – Protagonists (ENFJ) (81%) and Advocates (INFJ) (80%) – who agreed at much higher rates than those with the Prospecting trait – Campaigners (ENFP) (52%) and Mediators (INFP) (46%).

Analysts (59%)

Analysts were also divided in their responses around the Judging trait. In fact, the personality types in this Role were most at odds with each other on the subject of list-making. While to-do lists may strike many Analysts as unnecessary, even burdensome, yokes on their behavior (particularly when they’re imposed by others), the clearly written objectives set forth in them may at times appeal to their problem-solving natures. It may even be the case that Analyst personalities, while they may rarely enjoy the process of creating a list, relish the feeling of accomplishment that comes from checking off each item.

While we might have expected a Sentinel personality type to have the highest agreement score in this survey, it was actually an Analyst type: Turbulent Commanders (ENTJ-T) were the most likely of all personality types to agree that they like making to-do lists (84.54%). But they were closely followed by Turbulent Consuls (ESFJ-T) (84.51%) and Turbulent Defenders (ISFJ-T) (84.50%), both Sentinels. What, aside from their Judging trait, made Commanders more likely than other Analysts to agree? Commanders are natural leaders, often forging new paths and managing large groups of people. They may feel that, in order to effectively bring others together to accomplish big goals, they must be extremely organized themselves, modeling strict standards of efficiency and productivity. To-do lists help them do just that.

Additionally, the Turbulent Identity of all three of our top-responding personality types makes them feel more nervous about making mistakes, and to-do lists can help offset that anxiety and ensure that tasks get done how and when they’re supposed to.

Interestingly, it was also an Analyst type that had the second-lowest agreement score: Assertive Logicians (INTP-A) (36%). Like Commanders, Logicians are known for having big, creative visions, but they tend to be grounded more in vigorous intellectualism than ambition. Uninterested in the mundane, day-to-day tasks of life, Logicians prefer to give their creative energy space to roam. How else can they make new discoveries and break new ground in their fields? Logician personalities with Assertive Identities are also more confident in their own abilities, without relying on the aid of to-do lists.

Explorers (46%)

Of all the Roles, Explorers were the only one in which a minority, however slight, felt the need to keep a to-do list. While such a list may sometimes prove useful to Explorer personality types, even if they later choose to deviate from it, in many cases, the very act of list-making may clash with their extemporaneous style. Explorers’ shared Prospecting trait makes them great at improvising – not at following lists. Preferring to live in the moment and keep their options open, they may approach lists from a perspective of opportunity cost: What other experiences might they miss out on if they commit themselves to the activities on the list? Some Explorer personalities may even think that list-making cuts into time that could be more usefully spent taking action, and that if something is forgotten, then it probably wasn’t particularly important in the first place.

Assertive Virtuosos (ISTP-A) were the least likely of all personality types to agree that they enjoy making to-do lists (35%). Indeed, it’s difficult to imagine a Virtuoso sitting down to make a list and then sticking with it. Freedom and flexibility are essential for Virtuosos, who are known for jumping quickly from one project or activity to the next, always seeking new experiences. Though practical and rational types, their spontaneous nature is likely to make them resent the commitment that a to-do list represents.

Strategies

The Identity aspect, as mentioned, did have a slight influence on our readers’ responses, as did the Mind aspect. Turbulent personality types were 3% more likely than Assertive types to agree that they like making to-do lists, and the same was true of Extraverts over Introverts. But on the whole, our data indicated that Strategies have little to do with our readers’ propensity for list-making. The Social Engagement Strategy agreed at a rate of 67%, People Mastery and Constant Improvement at 64% each, and Confident Individualism at 58%.

Conclusions

List-making is an activity that comes most naturally to personalities who feel comfortable when everything is ordered, in its proper place. The process of creating a list may in itself be a pleasurable one, satisfying this need for organization even before the tasks themselves are undertaken. On the other hand, some types who are not naturally well organized might look at list-making as a necessity for managing and counteracting the disarray in their lives.

In this way, even seemingly opposing personality types may find solace in something as simple as a to-do list, which can make even the most monumental tasks seem workable by reducing them to just a few short words.

What about you? Do to-do lists make you feel comfortably in control or confined by commitment? Let us know in the comments below!

You can see the full set of data, including correlation coefficients, in the Academy. Please also consider participating in our Member Surveys!

10 months ago
I'm an ENFP but somehow like making a lot of lists! However, in true Campaigner style, I fail to complete almost any of the points, and the lists keep getting longer...
11 months ago
I love making to-do lists! In fact, I depend so much on my lists that I have electronic lists saved on my devices: comprehensive shopping lists where I simply highlight what I need to buy; packing lists, broken into categories for local and international (i.e. going by plane) travel; goal lists, divided into today, short term, and long term. I love the feeling of accomplishment I get looking back over all the checked off tasks. The only down side...I tend to overload myself and for some lists, there is never an end, lol!
11 months ago
I don't know why, but I just don't. No matter how many times I forget to do something, I just don't. I need to adjust my lifestyle...
11 months ago
As an INTP I occasionally try to makes list, like once every 3 years, in order to achieve something close to productivity but it always fails.
1 year ago
"Uninterested in the mundane, day-to-day tasks of life, Logicians prefer to give their creative energy space to roam. " So spot-on! Sometimes I like to make mental to-do lists (or make lists to guide others as they work), but I rarely follow them. And as a writer, I never do outlines, I prefer to let my creativity flow.
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