Tried to Make Me Go to Rehab

You’re a quick-witted bunch so I imagine you’ve already picked up on this, but I like lists. I like the way they highlight important things. I like the way they bring order to this crazy world. I like how nice and clean they look. (I’m sorry if you’ve heard all this before. I like talking about them, too.) I especially like lists because they’re helpful in almost every situation. If you’re going shopping, what should you bring? A list! If you’re writing demands in a ransom note, how should you arrange them? In a list! If you’re trying to win Trivial Pursuit and you need the name of a 19th-century Hungarian composer, what should you say? Liszt! See? So handy.

In four and half years of writing a list-based blog, this is the first time I have used that pun. I AM NOT SORRY.


I like all kinds of lists, but right now I’m really into to-do lists. I’ve always used them — hell, I even use to-don’t lists — but I’ve only recently discovered the true beauty of a well-executed to-do list. It’s like poetry, but in a vertical format that doesn’t make a ton of sense when you read it but still has a rhythm. Oh. Ok, it’s exactly like poetry. I’ve been doing a lot more freelance work than usual lately. And I recently (begrudgingly) became a grown up who pays bills and runs errands and returns phone calls. Oh, and I bought a house, adopted a cat, and then thought, “You know what I need? Hobbies!” Just like that, I became the kind of person who comes home from a long day at work and still has approximately 90 million more things to do before bed. And right after that, I became the kind of person who writes seven painstaking, highly detailed to-do lists, one for every day of the week.

Pros of My To-Do Lists

  1. Total relief — If I think, “Bless my stars, I have 49 things to do this week!” then the next thing in my brain is one long scream that never, ever ends. But with my to-do lists, I can trick my dumb brain into believing that the same situation is fine because I only have seven things to do per night.
  2. Increased productivity — Now that I know exactly what I need to do, when I need to do it, I spend less time worrying that I’ve forgotten something vital and more time actually doing stuff.
  3. Motivation — I once took a personality test that asked two million questions, if I remember correctly. When I got the results, they said my number-one strength is that I’m driven by achievement and failure to accomplish my goals eats away at me. A cheaper, more efficient way to establish the same result would have been to sit me down with a to-do list, a pen, and a time limit, and then to come back when the time is up to see if I’m celebrating completing it or doing my best to die trying.
  4. A Record of Accomplishment — Look at all the stuff I did!
  5. Satisfaction — I live for the moment where I get to draw a thick, black Sharpie line over a task on my list. God, it feels good.
  6. Brief Sharpie Highs — (If we’re being honest.)
If they didn't want you to sniff them, they wouldn't make them smell so good.

If they didn’t want you to sniff them, they wouldn’t make them smell so good.

I don’t know where I’d be without these lists. (Well. I suspect I’d probably be wasting less time writing things like, “Organize closet according to principles of mise-en-place” or “Write more to-do lists” on to-do lists, but I would also be getting less important stuff done.) They’re the only thing getting me through the day. But, um, also… and I don’t want to make a big deal of this or anything… also, they might be kind of slowly killing me. Haha. Ha. Ha.

Cons of My To-Do Lists

  1. They’re super crazy. I have to hide my lists when people come over. And when friends say, “Stephanie, what are you doing tonight?” I always go, “Uh…” because I’m trying to stop myself from mechanically listing the 10 goals I must compulsively accomplish before my brain allows me to sleep. Because that’s nuts.
  2. I’m a little bit worried they might be a symptom of a deeper, underlying problem. My life feels totally nut-burgers right now, for lack of a better term. So maybe I’m obsessing over my to-do lists because they feel like the only thing I have control over? Or another, funnier thing! Let’s pretend I said that here.
  3. Maybe they’re contributing to my life feeling totally nut-burgers right now. Maybe I should come home from work and… not work.

    If I had my act together, my life would look more like this guacamole bacon burger.

    If I had my act together, my life would look more like this guacamole bacon burger.

  4. If I don’t cross every item off my list for the day, I feel like a complete failure. But if I do cross every item off the list, I feel like I should have set higher goals. Slacker.
  5. I’ve started rebelling against myself. Last night, in an act of insurrection, I watched TV instead of doing the thing my list thought I should be doing. That’ll show me, I thought, and tried not to dwell on the weirdness of the situation.
  6. I can’t tell if I enjoy doing the things on my to-do lists anymore, or if I’m only doing them to cross them off the list. And to smell the Sharpie.

These lists are affecting my relationships and hurting me in the long run. I don’t think there’s such a thing as list rehab, but it’s pretty clear that I need a to-do list intervention. The problem is that I can’t organize one without making a to-do list.


  1. Catherine Bardagy Winchild

    You haven’t added “have children” to your list yet, but — when, or if, you do — I highly recommend just the Get One Thing Done Off Your List each day in order to hit the imaginary sweet spot. Mmmmmm…SHARPIES.

  2. pensitivity101

    You are not alone!
    My Hubby is King of The Lists. He uses them for everything, which is probably why he’s such an organised soul.
    I on the other hand, tend to use spreadsheets. These are of course just computerised lists!

  3. shenanitim

    My best friend was obsessed with making lists when we were growing up. I used to mock him mercilessly for it. Could never get him to stop though, until the fateful night his father walked past his room and saw him typing on the computer. “What are you doing?,” his father asked, “making another one of those damned lists?”

    I’m pretty sure the scare of being outed as a list maker ended his obsession.

  4. Diane

    I desperately need to be in list rehab. I am now making lists of the things I didn’t accomplish on my lists which is pretty much just the same list only cleaner looking.

  5. Go Jules Go

    If you ever need a list of other ways to rebel against yourself, you just let me know.

    And I’ve been gone too long. You bought a house?! Do you let the people at Home Depot see your lists?

  6. The False Prophet

    It sounds like you’re enjoying this selfinfliction of pain just to smell a sharpie… that’s awesome. Keep on blogging in a free world and have a prophet-able day – The False Prophet.

  7. chwdesigns2015

    Lists are an important part of everyday life. List can be stored everywhere, our heads, wallets, purses, computers, smart phones even on our palm(s) if we are just desperate to have a list, just don’t use the sharpie on your palm.

  8. Kev

    I can relate! I recently discovered the app Wunderlist that makes a satisfying dinging bell sound when you check an item off. But it’s too easy to write tasks like “Make grocery list”. And there is no Sharpie scent!

  9. shopgirlanonymous

    My husband adorably shares your misery. He must consistently maintain lists, and it drives me crazy when we are on the phone, because we have to review the daily to do list before parting ways. Then we review it again when we call again. Then we review it again when we meet up anywhere, in person we normally review the list about three times as I am unable to hang up. He loves lists! ;)

  10. perfectchow

    I make lists for everything as well. There are things on my list that have been there for months though. I like having structure, but then I also love spontaneity, the struggle is real!

  11. Pingback: Wake Me up Before You Go-Go | Listful Thinking
  12. Pingback: A World of Pure Imagination | Listful Thinking
  13. Pingback: What Are Words For? | Listful Thinking
  14. Pingback: If You See Her, Say Hello | Listful Thinking

Leave a Reply!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s