Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Friday, February 12, 2010

To Do or Not To Do

On this final day of a jam-packed week, I am thinking about to do lists.  I have been maintaining a daily list since beginning this blog, and initiating this recovery tale. My new calendar has a built-in space for listing tasks, with the little check boxes I have been drawing on my lists for years.  I am working to recast "the list" more as tool than tyrant.  But, as I suspect is the case for many of us procrastinators, I retain some ambivalence about the practice of "order-ing" myself to do things.  (This post will now be briefly interrupted while I rush over to my calendar and record the urgent tasks just phoned in by my boss.)

Okay.  I'm back.  Now where was I?  Oh, yes.  The subject was not roses, but the much ballyhooed to do list.  That centerpiece of nearly every organizational approach I've ever consulted in my previous attempts to get it together. That source of indigestion littered with empty boxes indicating non-completion.  That destroyer of spontaneity.  That scourge of modern civilization. . . . Oops!  Am I being a wee bit negative here? 

My intention this morning, before I return to the fold of compliant list-followers, is to present the following list of ways to deal with the to do list.  I have purposely intermixed serious and ridiculous ideas without judgment, as in the very best brainstorming.  I leave it for the reader to decide which are which.

How to Deal With To Do Lists:  14 Possible Strategies 
  1. Maintain a running list, and leave items on until they are moot. For example, keep "Send get well card" on until the intended recipient has recovered or died.
  2. Cheat and pretend you did it
  3. Loosely define "completed;" feel the shame and check it off anyway
  4. Close your eyes, hold your nose, screw up your courage and DO IT!
  5. Maintain a "to don't" list 
  6. Do as Therese Borchard recommends in her Beyond Blue blog, making the list in pencil and moving things to another day when feeling stressed
  7. Take some days off, daring to dispense with "the list"
  8. Salt the list with easily checked-off items, such as "breathe" and "drink coffee"
  9. Lose the list. Literally. When it surfaces years later, you will be amazed at how many of the things on the list ultimately got done. I call this the time capsule solution.
  10. Ball it up and throw it 
  11. Mount the list on a dartboard. Use darts to determine which tasks to attempt. If you're bad at darts, like I am, you may get lucky and miss them all.
  12. Think of the list as a guideline and short-term memory substitute--not a report card.
  13. Try to keep the list realistic. Pass up the temptation to include heroic achievements, like "cure cancer" or "attain Nirvana" among a day's targets.
  14. Write the list in disappearing ink.
Hopefully, some or all of these suggested strategies will prove useful in our never-ending quest for truth, justice and a "productive day."  And now, it's back to the salt mines, er, I mean my list.

1 comment:

  1. Here's a different way of tracking your list with Office List Buddy. It lets you manage your lists, and share them with others by phone and web. Learn more here:

    Good luck accomplishing your to-dos!

    MSFT Office Outreach Team