The advantages and pitfalls of to-do lists
I have a confession to make that will come as no surprise to those who know me well. I am a list maker.
I am not talking about wish lists, bucket lists, or the ten best or worst of lists, which can be fun and fanciful. I am talking about to-do lists.
To-do lists help organize our time and jog our memory. Writing items down means we can relax and stop them from churning around in our mind. We have the list to help us remember. Breaking large, seemingly insurmountable projects into small pieces we list and tackle bit by bit makes the project seem achievable and gives a sense of accomplishment to motivate us through the entire project. The journey of many miles begins with a single step.
But there are dangers in to-do lists. In the desire to feel productive by crossing things off the list, we may concentrate on the urgent or easy, but unimportant, things. We can say with self-satisfaction, “Look at the all the things I’ve done.” And yet we’ve haven’t touched the really important items. The to-do list may keep us so focused on being busy, we forget that quiet and still time are necessary for creativity and rejuvenation.
To make sure I don’t forget things, I need to write them down more than I used to, but I don’t think that is the driving factor behind my list making. I have a compulsion to get things done. I need to feel productive, maybe even maniacally so. After many, many years of list-making and doing, I still tend to put more on my list than is realistically achievable in the given time frame. Maybe, as I’ve occasionally seen suggested, I should add a stop-doing list.
I have a white board in my home office and every week I list things to be done. The list includes non-routine household chores, writing work, errands, and other items I’ve volunteered or committed to do. When complete, I write a line through the item in a different-coloured marker. At the end of the week, I erase the board and start a new list, often transferring items that didn’t get crossed off to the new list.
I’m trying to stay more focused on truly important things. This week, I erased the board and left it blank. How will my week turn out without a written to-do list? Other than my blog entries, I have three things that must be done this week, things with firm, not self-imposed, deadlines. Midway through the week, I’ve completed one, and the other two are well in hand. I can’t erase my mental to-do list and there are other things on that, but there is no compulsion for them to be finished this week. How the rest of the week unfolds is yet to be seen.
Are you a list maker?