The To Do List – Friend or Foe?

by Sandy L on July 18, 2010

     My husband says the key to our successful marriage is my horrible memory. He once snuck hot ziti between my toes and made me jump up and down in pain like something out of a cartoon. I was holding a colander in my hands, so I couldn’t just bend over and pull them out.  He thought it was one of the funniest sights he ever witnessed.  The only reason I remember the story is because he thought it was so hilarious he re-told it many times.  What does this have to do with lists? Well, my horrible memory means that I rely heavily on things other than my brain to remember things.

      I love lists. They are one of my all time favorite organization tools and I use them in almost all aspects of my life. My other favorite is my calendar, but we’ll save that for another day. 

      Even though I’m in love with lists and want to have their little organized babies, I have run across more than a handful of people who hate lists. As a result I want to analyze why lists are such a polarizing thing for some people.

My list from Friday

 Why lists are great:

  •  They put all your urgent tasks in one place – vs in your head, on a post it, in your email box, written on an empty dunkin donuts bag in your car, etc.
  • They allow you to highlight or prioritize the most important items
  • They give you a huge sense of satisfaction when you cross a task off them – am I the only one who sometimes adds something that I’ve already done so that I can check it off? It not only feels good but reminds me that I no longer have to do that thing.
  • They pull all those thoughts swirling around in your head and onto paper. Sometimes that actually helps me concentrate when I know I don’t have to keep remembering to do something later.

 Why some people don’t like lists:

  • You are spending time making a list instead of using that time to actually get stuff off your plate.
  • They can be overwhelming and de-motivating. Seeing a huge pile of tasks sometimes makes you want to wave the white flag before you even start tackling something.
  • They can be meaningless unless they help you start the tasks at hand.
  • They also meaningless if the items on them are too vague – ie, lose weight, get organized, etc.  Those are more like goals to me.
  • You’re brain is fried and you’re just not ready to face your responsibilities at that moment.

 So what do I say to the naysayers?  After all, lists are supposed to help you get stuff done and a list isn’t going get up and  weed your garden for you.

 1.      Lists don’t have to be long. On days I just have a hard time getting going, I often start with 5 things I must complete that day. I pick one and try not to deviate from it until it’s complete.

2.      Lists don’t have to be important. Sometimes I just  pick the easiest thing on it to get the ball rolling.

3.      Lists don’t have to be in one format. They can be on your computer, in your head (if you’re wired that way), on 25 post it notes on your desk, an appointment on your calendar…a little pink bow tied around your pinky. (Did people ever really used to do that?)

  I try my best to keep my list in one spot, but inevitably, that envelope on the counter is just so conveniently located.  Which camp are you in?  Am I missing any pros and cons?

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Wendy July 21, 2010 at 3:02 PM

List maker – here! They can be addictive, and if left without purpose you can get lost in the joy of writing everything down …but forgetting to then prioritize. Like you, I have a master list, but on a daily basis I try in the evening, or first thing in the morning to jot down the 1-2 Have to, and 2-3 Really Need to do activities. If I get them all done, and have more time, anything extra is icing. Yes – it feels great to check it off, although I did stop writing down tasks just so I could cross them off 😉


Sandy L July 22, 2010 at 10:51 AM

I usually revise my master list when I am cleaning off my desk. As best as I try, I always end up having notes on various scraps of paper. Yesterday I had one on a sandwich wrapper. I guess that’s what happens when you’re a road warrier. As hard as I try keeping a notebook handy, sometimes I get that call out of the blue and you just grab whatever’s near at hand.


Nicole July 30, 2010 at 3:33 AM

List maker here. I make lists of lists. Meta lists.
Nicole recently posted..I- sorceress


Ted A. August 3, 2010 at 7:29 PM

Love the blog, “firstg6”.
In general, I’m a list fan. Being married, however, there is one other major drawback to lists… when your personal list is used against you. I had a general list of things to get done with no fixed timetable (mulch/weed flower beds, replace trees, reseal the deck, paint rooms, steam-clean carpets, etc.) and suddenly it became a nag list… “Why are you still on the computer when you still have “XYZ” to-do on your list?”… so as much as I like lists (especially before going on a trip), I don’t make them nearly as much anymore. When I do, I have to hide them away, but then they are never out to remind me… such is life.


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