Needle Lists Are The New To-Do Lists That Help Calm Your Anxious Mind

Whether or not you’ve heard of them, we’re all subconsciously making needle lists. These are the lists that usually have about 10-20 tasks on them that won’t take longer than five minutes but still manage to ruin your day when you think about them. 

I think lists are a great way to combine productivity with focus. They help people organize their thoughts and tasks for the day and usually get more accomplished. Not to mention, it’s a wonderful feeling to check those tasks off. 

But the trouble comes when little things keep popping up in my life that need to get added to the list. These things aren’t necessarily huge; in fact, they usually take 1-5 minutes each. But I can’t get started with my day and stay focused without getting them done. This is why we need needle lists to take control of our productivity.

What are Needle Lists?

The term is coined by Serena Wolf, author of The Dude Diet. She chose the term ‘needle’ because the small tasks “live rent-free in the back of my mind and just needle me on a daily basis…I will put off sending a text or making a phone call for weeks for no particular reason…I know the text or call will only take maybe 30 seconds, and yet I just won’t do it.”

The tasks on your needle list can sway you in one of two negative ways — either you get so obsessed with finishing everything on the list that you can only focus on that and you neglect your bigger responsibilities, or they continue to weigh on you every single day until you decide to do something about them.  

How to Make a Needle List


Don’t underestimate the power of a simple to do list. Step-by-step, and item by item, you will get where you want to go.

♬ original sound – Liam Kircher

The items on needle lists are often personal or housekeeping tasks that come up throughout the day. They can be as simple as calling someone back, writing thank you notes, doing laundry, or anything else that can be accomplished in less than 30 minutes. 

Something to remember is that just making these lists won’t make the tasks go away or get easier to do. You might want to section off a certain time of the day or a whole day to tackle the list and finally put an end to your incessant worries. 

By taking time out of your normal schedule and finally tackling the small tasks that continuously pile up on you, you’re batching your work, making it easier and more accessible to do, and you can walk away from your needle list sessions knowing that you accomplished a great deal. 

If the thought of making yet another list of to-dos is overwhelming or stressful to you, make boundaries for the list. Maybe only add a few tasks at a time or time block them in a way that you know that finishing the entire list will only take an hour or less. 

Huffington Post notes, “Wolf said she likes to keep her needle list to five items or fewer at any given time. It’s more manageable that way, and she likes knowing she can knock off most — and sometimes all — of them during the allotted time on Fridays.”

Discover and play around with how your needle list will work for you. If you want to spend a day tackling everything you can think of, do it. If you’re more of a person who just wants to get some tasks out of the way for thirty minutes on a Friday night, that works too!

The goal of using a needle list isn’t to add stress or tasks to your life, but instead, to make those small tasks more manageable to accomplish.

Why Needle Lists Work So Well

At the end of the day, needle lists are just different types of to-do lists, so their recent rise in popularity begs the question: Why are to-do lists so popular?

Dr. David Cohen, a psychologist, author, and lover of his personal to-do lists narrows our obsession with these lists down to three factors: “They dampen anxiety about the chaos of life, they give us structure, a plan we can stick to; and they are proof of what we have achieved that day, week, or month.” In short, to-do lists not only organize our somewhat chaotic lives, but they also allow us to point to certain achievements or goals that we’ve accomplished and celebrate all the little steps it took to get there. 

In terms of a needle list, a study conducted by professors Baumeister and Masicampo from Wake Forest University found that the tasks a person hasn’t done will distract them, but just by making a plan to do those tasks, it will free people from the anxiety. That’s why dedicating time and space to create and work on your needle list every day, week, or month will help you stay more focused, while also alleviating your anxieties. 


Have you ever heard of a needle list before? Are you going to make one now? Comment below!

For More Articles On Productivity, Read These Next:

Join the Conversation