Tuesday, May 18, 2010

To Do or Not To Do - A Question

Do you make a 'to do' list? I do. But I've been wondering lately whether my 'to do' lists really help my work get done. Or whether it's just another thing 'to do'.

Thanks to Sister Mary Catherine, I've been making lists since the first grade. After many nights of bedtime panic because I'd forgotten to do my homework, Sister gave me a small notebook and told me to make a list of all my assignments. I took that book everywhere and wrote down every assignment from that day on. I didn't go to bed in a panic anymore as long as I had my notebook by my bed.

I am a very organized person. Lists have proved to be a very helpful tool. I'm not blaming Sister Mary Catherine, she was trying to help a struggling, fearful little girl. I've even taught my own children to use 'to do' lists.

But now, after many decades of using this tool, is this tool using me?

It started out as a way to be less fearful. But did it really make me less fearful? When I have project, a weekend off or vacation, I worry that I'm going to forget something so I make another list. Post a notes are everywhere in my house. Making a list has been the first thing I did every week and checking it off gave me a feeling of accomplishment.

Now, there's a part of me that wants to be free 'to do' whatever comes to mind. To create without an agenda, a schedule, a list of projects with sublists. After a few years filled with fear, loss and change, I want to be open to enjoying my life as it's happening with more ease and flow and grace.

So what did I do to help myself move into this new space?

Yup. I made a list. I didn't realize it at first. I just saw the post-its as colorful little flags, a way to make my intentions more concrete. But now I see that in an effort to get out from under my old fear-based behavior of making lists, I just made another series of lists.

Do you make lists? Does it help you get everything in your life done? Or is it a ball and chain that slows down your life and saps your creative energy? If you don't make lists, how do you remember to get everything done?

So the question...To Do or Not To Do? Can I live my life and get my work done without a list? What do you suggest? Let me know and I'll keep you all posted. By the way, you're on my list. :)


Kim Switzer said...

I do make lists, but they don't help me get everything done. I've stopped making highly detailed lists, though. I make a list for a period of 2-3 days rather than a daily list, and I only put on it the big things that need my time and attention. That way, I don't get caught up in the small busy-nesses of life and forget to focus on what really needs me. I've been doing this since the end of last year, and it seems to help me get things done without leaving me overwhelmed by a too huge "to do" list.

Stacy said...

How funny that you made a list to help you let go of making lists :o)

I have slowly stopped making lists almost without realizing it. I used to make them on the weekends because I felt overwhelmed with stuff I needed to do, but then I would get bummed out because I didn't want to spend the weekend checking off a to-do list. At my day job I have a to do list of my big projects, but I don't make lists of the little tasks anymore. Everything somehow gets done.

Susan Gallacher-Turner said...

You've hit a happy medium for yourself, here...making a big picture list that helps you focus on your true goals.

Great idea! Thanks for sharing another way to look at lists.

Susan Gallacher-Turner said...

Glad you were able to let go of the weekend lists especially when you have to do it during the week. And it's especially encouraging to hear that somehow everything gets done without making a list of everything.

Maybe it's a matter of trust?

Now I could make a list about that...but :)

Caelista said...

Interesting post. :-)

Like goldenbird, I used to start the weekend with a big list but it was depressing to have so many tasks ahead of me, and then the lists kept getting longer as I remembered more things I needed to do. I never seemed to get through them.

These days I try to focus on one main thing I need to get done each day, or at least no more than three main things. That seems to work a lot better because I can actually finish them!

Susan Gallacher-Turner said...


I so know where you're coming from on the ever expanding list!

I love your idea of having 1 but not more than 3 main 'to dos' for the day. Much more manageable and hopefully makes your day more fun as well as productive.

Lois J. de Vries said...

I keep a Master List by category that I add to whenever something occurs to me. From that list, I choose three to four priorities (in various categories) for each month.

On Mondays, I make a weekly list of everything I would like to get done that week and have gotten over the idea that the list is way too long. That isn't its purpose.

Whatever doesn't get done on Monday is carried to Tuesday. What's left on Tuesday's list gets carried to Wednesday, etc. Yes, sometimes things come up that have to be added.

On the weekends, the list may change completely, to address just weekend things. On Monday, I carry forward whatever is left over from the previous Friday and add more things.

Over time, the irritation of seeing the same item on the list every day for two months or more acts as an incentive to finally get it off the list. I either decide not to do it, or do it.

I view lists as organizational tools that free up brain cells that would otherwise be used for repetitive tasks of remembering. Past a certain age, it's the only way you can remember anything.

Susan Gallacher-Turner said...

Wow...you are an amazingly organized person and lists are important to you and your life. I agree lists are wonderful organizational tools, and I always feel that putting it down on a list does 'free up' my brain to think of other things instead of worrying whether I'll remember to do 'it' done.

Good points! Thanks!