I love making lists. It’s been an important part of my work process for as long as I can remember.
So, imagine my distress when I happened upon a blog titled “Why To-do Lists Don’t Work.”
When I was younger, I might have closed the window dismissively and refused to entertain such a preposterous idea. But now that I’m older, and possibly wiser, I allowed myself to consider the possibility of another perspective. As I often do, I turned to Google to seek out more information. I discovered one person who actually stated they were on a mission to rid the world of the practice of list making.
I’ve been thinking about writing on this topic for a few weeks, but today the Universe got involved and nudged me to actually do it.
I was lying in bed, looking at the way the sun was lighting up downtown and thinking about the day ahead. I remarked that I hoped I had a more productive day than the previous two. It felt like I hadn’t done much of anything so far this week.
My partner disagreed. He pointed out I’d done things, just not the stuff I’d originally hoped to do. Could he be right? Were tasks that weren’t on my list just as important as those that were? As with most things in life, there is both a bright and shadow side to making lists. It isn’t the list that are the problem, but the fact people use them to run their days.
Life is full of unknowns, interruptions, and change. No one can predict the future, so when circumstances prevent you from doing the things on your list, it can leave you feeling discouraged.
Unexpected situations can also mean that items get added to your list faster than you can cross them off. Feelings of being overwhelmed may result, causing your level of productivity to drop.
Should you shun unexpected opportunities because they don’t fit in with your list? If you do, you’ll limit creativity and the chance to reap the benefits of living in the moment. Both these things foster happiness, but not if you’re feeling guilty about straying from your list.
I believe a teacher’s greatest skill is taking advantage of the teachable moment. This refers to giving attention to something unexpected but valuable. That can come in all sorts of guises. Unforeseen weather, situations, or events can become the perfect introduction to an important topic or valuable discussion.
You can apply the same principle to your own life. Allow yourself to notice and take advantage of what’s going on around you, even if it’s unexpected. Powering through your list isn’t always going to serve you best.
I’m happy to announce that as I delved into what people had to say about to-do lists, I discovered that over the years I’ve unwittingly added another dimension to my task recording that helps balance the shadow side.
My favourite part of writing a list is crossing off tasks as I complete them. Sometimes when I discover I’ve done something that wasn’t previously recorded, I write it down so I can put a satisfying line through it.
It turns out that doing this is a way of creating a “done” list.
By focusing on both what you still have to do, and what you’ve actually accomplished, you can soothe potential frustration and anxiety.
My week may not have started with writing my column, working on my newsletter, or sending out more queries to literary agents, but I cleared more things out of my other house, increased my step count and gave myself some much-needed self-care.
Now I think about it, I’ve had a very productive week.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.