How I Eliminated My To-Do List
I’ve been fantasising about life without a To Do list for a really long time.
It’s not so much the actual things on the list that I find tricky. It’s the drive to try to get to the end of the list. When I’m in that list-conquering mode of powering through, ticking things off, I’m feeling physically clenched & tight, as I grasp for that elusive end point. The one that never comes.
For years I’ve used that well-known system of having 2 lists – one for Later, which is pretty massive, all the things I want to get to at some point. I don’t look at that one very often. And a much shorter one for Priority tasks – this is pulled from the big list, and only has about 7-9 things on it at once. And yet, something about this small list was still bothering me.
Then I had a bit of a lightbulb moment. I also have another To Do list that doesn’t weigh so heavy. One that works with me, not against me. That list is a small whiteboard where I keep track of things I want to do with (or for) our son – buy a particular resource, research a potential day out, find an activity idea related to an interest of his. It’s a grid of 9 boxes, and in each one I write one thing I want to do. Whatever I’ve put in each box gets rubbed out and refilled as one thing is done and the next idea comes along to fill its space. And here’s the thing. I don’t resent filling up those spaces again, and it doesn’t make me feel defeated. Why? Because for one thing, it’s not organised as a list, with a top and a bottom.
That struck me as pretty radical. And it also made total sense. In a hugely outcome-driven culture, a list is yet one more way that I was staying hooked on getting somewhere.
I began to wonder, what if my Priority list was arranged more like my family activities board, so that it didn’t have a top and a bottom?
Sure enough, there’s an app for that – and now I have a ‘list’ that looks more like a wheel, or a flower, (or a wonky kind of grid): it says Next in the middle, and has tasks written around that in a kind of circle. Maybe it’s a To Do sheet instead of a list.
And it feels different. It doesn’t matter so much if I don’t clear anything off it. I can do one thing, and not feel quite so driven to get to the next thing down on the list – which makes it easier to let go and take a break. I also put less time & energy into deciding what should be at the top.
It’s been very freeing. I haven’t got rid of things that I need or want to do – it’s the list format that I eliminated. And without that, I just don’t have to get to the end of anything before I can relax. It’s helped me to shift my mindset from the product of a crossed-off list, to the process of a fully-lived life. When I do complete something, I’m not crossing it off, so much as opening up a spot for something else. I’m not trying to make it shorter, I’m keeping it full with things that matter.
I once read a great quote about how the only time we will have no To Do list is when we are dead. It really made me appreciate not only the futility in trying to get to the end of the list, but also the vitality inherent in that collection of intentions, tasks and ideas – the evidence of a life being lived, day by day. And not rushing to get to ‘the end’ of that life.