When it comes to my to-do list, there’s overwhelming potential for worry.
Even in my twenties, albeit with teeny weeny handwriting, I managed to limit each day’s doings to a single square on my monthly calendar. Before reaching thirty, though, I graduated to a slender leather week-at-a-glance date book. My schedule was now portable enough to venture out into the wide, wide world, which was when the trouble began.
The thought of misplacing even one day’s to-do list makes me stop breathing, so you can imagine the angst provoked by the possibility of losing a whole year’s schedule or part thereof. By worrying hard enough, I managed never to lose it.
But help was on the way in the form of a friend who told me about the Franklin system, whose planner was too large, at least for me, to take outside of the home. Owning a Franklin day planner was like being a member of a cult; the Franklin was similar to a Filofax, except I had to take a class on how to incorporate my “values” into my things to-do, except I couldn’t figure out what my values were.
But help was on the way in the form of my octillionnth personal organizer. She introduced me to Planner Pads and here’s where life became both more organized and more complicated. The pages, nearly big as placemats, had plenty of space for writing all the things I had to-do. My principle became: the more space I had, the more minutiae I could put on my list.
I’ve never been able to internalize my mother’s mantra, Less is More, which would have helped. With this clunky leather-bound book open on my lap, loose papers spilling from both ends, I would sit before an entire episode of the Gilmore Girls, just staring at all the things I now had to do, frozen except for my heart’s arrhythmic spasms.
But help was on the way in the form of an ADD coach. She suggested I take ten minutes each night to write what I needed to do the following day on a single 4 x 6 PostIt. And then close the book! Out of sight, out of mind worked for a while.
Until once again greed set in and I squeezed too many unimportant to-do’s on the list, just in case I had time for things like going through the wobbly piles of New Yorkers in the upstairs hall, which I eventually solved by throwing them all away when I was cleaning up for a party and cancelling my subscription. It soon required 20 minutes each night to transfer all these items to the following day’s list.
But help was on the way in the form of a cognitive therapist who suggested keeping the list on my computer, which would save having to rewrite the entries. Ok, Dear Reader, can you guess what happened next? Yes indeedy, I was no longer bound by the limits of 11 1/2″ paper size for how lengthy this list could be, and before long it became as long as a book and took more than 20 minutes just to read the list and figure out what to keep on it for the following day.
To add to my woes, as with the PostIts, I sometimes lost a list, usually in the house, and then I would dart around searching again and again the same places for a half hour and then I would redo the list and then the original would turn up.
Also stressful was that I began running out of space in my file cabinet for the ten years of paper lists, which included the daily PostIts and, after that, the daily print-outs. Yet, should I decide to write my memoirs, here conveniently was this period of my life on 3,650 pieces of paper.
But help was on the way in the form of a MacBook Pro, which I bought in November, 2009. Within a few months of sporadic lessons at the Apple store, I began using the color-coded calendar for appointments and using “stickies,” which are like PostIts but on the computer, for the rest of what I “had to-do.” Consulting these, I went back to handwriting the list, this time on scraps of paper, and so far it takes no more than ten minutes a day.
The biggest advancement in my emotional development is that after each day, I throw the list away.
And do you want to know something else? My biological sister has never kept a to-do list, which suggests to me the power of birth order.
In case you read this far and still don’t feel like getting back to work, here’s one more to-do related squib: “The To-Do List” is less than three lines long.
To-do lists and how people manage their lives fascinate me. I’d love to know how you manage.
See also some of my Life Goes Strong articles: