The Problem with Lists

I have always been a list maker. It is a habit that has gotten me through years of parenting three active boys, a husband who worked shifts, two graduate degrees, my own “jobs” or chores – both in the workplace and at home, and basically helped us meet all our obligations.

But, earlier this week I made a list that was too long! Yesterday, for example, I cleaned two bathrooms, did three loads of laundry, paid some bills, cleaned out files in my home office, and went to the dollar store. I also went on a long walk with my husband and our dog.

So, what’s the problem? The problem is that few, if any, of those things were on my list. For any list maker, satisfaction comes from being able to cross an item off your list as being completed! Yes? I do believe that is part of the reason people make lists. The first part of the list-making is to help one with the organization or prioritization of life’s tasks. The second, or latter part, of having a list is the satisfaction of being able to cross a task off as having been completed or finished!

Lists = Organization + Satisfaction

Without the satisfaction of being able to cross a task off a list, why bother making one in the first place? The problem, discovered after I had a very full day yesterday of accomplishing things not on my list, was that my list was too broad and too long. I wrote it to be a week’s worth of activities, not a day’s worth of tasks. My list included many tasks that were going to take more than a one-time effort to get them done. For example, I had “clean office – file work papers” on my list.

When I left work earlier this month I dumped my files and notes on my desk at home. Since October has been a strange month with my resignation, my husband traveling to Europe, raising a puppy, proofing college application essays, completing presentation obligations, and more, I just kept adding to the piles. On Monday, I started to tackle them. Not done, I left the item “clean office – file work papers” on my list. Yesterday, Tuesday, I did some more work on the same task. Still not done, still unable to cross this off the list. This morning I did a little bit more as I was looking for something I thought I had filed but hadn’t – it was still in a “pile.” This task is still on my list, although I have been working at it for days! I can tell you it feels like I’ve almost done nothing because it is still on the list!

So my problem with my list for the week is that it was too broad and too comprehensive. Had I written down some of the “finishable” chores or tasks I took care of yesterday, I would have been able to “cross” off those items.  Once realizing this problem, I will make sure my list is reasonable next week so I can “feel” the accomplished part of the above equation.

This is all part of my transition to being home during the day again. A transition to having a retired spouse. A transition to having a puppy. A transition to life without a “regular” job. A transition to not being a student. A transition to having kids who are nearly adult and almost never home.  Over the last two years, especially, there have been many transitions. I am trying to learn from those experiences and not jump right into something else I “have” to do. In other words, I am trying to relax. I am carefully considering my “next” pursuit and in what area I would like that to be.

The problem is not the list-making itself, but what I am putting on it. Let’s face it – you cannot put your whole life on a list. My problem has never been knowing what to do with my time, but rather having too much I want to do with my time – so it all goes on the list. I have lots of hobbies. Having lots of hobbies leads to having lots of tasks. Having lots of tasks, means making lots of lists.  Maybe, my list-making needs to relax as well. What do you think? Are you a list maker? What goes on your list?



6 thoughts

  1. I’m definitely a list maker. And I love to cross things off. I find that lists are harder now – especially right now – as I have very little I need to do. I had lots of lists in the preparation to move, but now they we’re here, there’s not much to write down.
    Side note: I’ve been known to write something on a to-do list that I have already completed, just to check it off and show (to myself) that I’ve done it!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I agree! I make a lot of lists myself, and I think I would go crazy if I lost them. But sometimes I feel they risk becoming unproductive black holes, so yes, it is indeed a balancing act.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh yes…I am a list maker. I love sitting down to make my list as much as I love crossing items off the list! Your post really made me stop and think about more than my lists, though. I am, like you, always thinking about the next thing I “have to get done,” going from one task to anther, crossing them off my list, and then creating a new list. I’m terrible at relaxing! Maybe you are right. Maybe the key to relaxing and slowing down a bit is to change the way we make lists. I’m going to think about that. I guess I’ll add this to my list! p.s. Have you read the picture book Wallace’s Lists? You’d love it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You know, I thought about what you wrote about liking to make the list as much as crossing the items off and I think that’s true for me as well! I am definitely trying more to relax and for a start I’ve been stopping to read for a short time each day. And, I make sure it is reading for enjoyment – not for work or study or self improvement – just a well written story by an author I enjoy! I will have to look for the book you mentioned! Sounds very interesting! Thanks! Happy listing making (and including some relaxation)!


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