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.
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- A Record of Accomplishment — Look at all the stuff I did!
- 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.
- Brief Sharpie Highs — (If we’re being honest.)
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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.
- 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.
- 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.