…one man's contribution to the Weeeeerly Wild World
I’m not sure why some people create To Do lists, while other people seemingly manage their way through life by essentially ‘winging’ each day. I can only guess that some people’s day-to-day lives really are that simple and straightforward or they forget a lot of stuff (or don’t care so much about what they do forget) – this isn’t a criticism, it’s an observation and reducing my number of To Do’s is now my intention. Perhaps others are better at dealing with each task as it turns up on their mental doorstep. Perhaps others are better at remembering what they need to do and don’t burden themselves with anything else; doing away with the need to write it all down.
Feel free to jump down to My Solution below and avoid reading all my insights.
Years ago I started a digital Notepad file labelled ‘To Do’ and every time I had something new I wanted to do, or something I wanted to remember I would add it to the top of the list. Eventually though, that list grew and grew and so I began creating sections called “Pre November” for example so that I could scroll down and more easily just delete the oldest To Do’s that I hadn’t got around to doing.
I pretty much abandoned that list in the end though and now it only holds a few essential bits of data. I have returned to using only pen and paper.
“Only” that’s a joke right there. By only, I mean, at it’s worst, bits of paper scattered around my desk, kitchen work surface, in my work bag and between the pages of my day planner. You see, I may create a To Do list with the best of intentions, and sometimes have a great day where I plough my way through that list, completing a great number of tasks and crossing them out as I go, and then to give another day a fresh start I might begin another list, transferring what I hadn’t done the day before (which could be a lot of stuff if I’d had a unproductive day previously), or I may have jotted something down on another bit of paper and added it to a pile somewhere… and then it all begins to unravel and become very messy. Some people are a little neater and just keep a single notepad where they can tear out a page and give themselves a fresh start. Another thing I do is create mini-To Do list files at the start of each month on my computer’s Desktop, or even a note with the day of the week – I can then quickly review an old file (from the previous month or week) and ditch it (or move stuff to the current file if I really think I’m going to make some headway with it).
It doesn’t really matter what form my To Do lists really take because I still have the persistent problem of adding To Do’s quicker than I complete others. This is where it all becomes overwhelming. A To Do list is supposed to help me keep my life on track – I have a lot of things I want to achieve, lots of little things, or even things that I need to do a bit of each day in order to make progress in something a bit bigger – I suppose I fear forgetting something and then remembering after too much time has passed and the task will appear even greater. But when I end up with such a lengthy To Do list, or many lists and bits of paper I feel overwhelmed and all the ‘noise’ in my head (because even if I write these things down they are not actually forgotten), and with all this I get nowhere. The burden slows me down or even halts me in my efforts.
When this sense of being overwhelmed by it all takes over I have to take a step back, sometimes I distract myself with something not even on the list(s), like washing up, or deciding at random that my sock draw needs organising. Other times, like today, I reorganised my To Do lists.
The last time I did this I created slips of paper, each of which had a To Do list category on, like “read” or “write on blog”. I would then pick a To Do from the pile, do it, and then add it back to the bottom of the pile. I started to bend my own rule though and if the next task wasn’t what I was in the mood for I would skip through the pile and end up doing a fun task instead of getting a menial task out of the way.
I have now categorised my To Do’s in a more detailed manner. I have a master To Do list, and then I have sub-To Do’s. So for example, I have “read” and then I have my reading list, I have “write” and I have my writing list, I have “work” and I have my list of work tasks, and I have “DIY” and I have my list of work around the house that I need to do.
From these sub-lists I can now my see two main problem areas.
#1 I jot down ideas for things I want to write about quicker than I write about them, essentially hoarding and overwhelming my mind with stuff.
#2 the list of work I need to do around my house is unnecessarily long – I have a habit of leaving jobs or rooms unfinished and moving on to something else. My mind is then juggling all these things even when I’m not doing them. Sometimes this is unavoidable such as when I need to decide on a list of materials to complete a variety of jobs that I need to buy at the same time from one place, but I can do better – either finishing jobs when I really can or not including anything on the To Do list I’m not ready to start (or prepared to burden my mind with yet).
I have noticed that having a To Do list exceeding ten things is an excessive mental burden. This is partly why I separated my To Do’s into categories, I suppose it’s cheating in a way because if they were all on one list it would really demonstrate how crazy busy I’m seemingly keeping myself, but now I can have my main To Do list at the forefront.
Putting a date next to items on the list is also useful – one way of living our lives in a more minimalistic fashion is to do away with anything we’ve not used or enjoyed in the past 12 months – with a To Do list we can give an item a deadline (a month seems good generally) and then if a month passes and we haven’t made a start on that item, cross it off the list and forget about it.
Now this is one less thing on my To Do list.