Friday, September 30, 2011


by Rachel Brady

I can't remember where I read the idea of a Not-To-Do List, but it amused me enough to give it a try.

The idea wasn't to make a list of things you aren't going to do. Rather, the challenge was to stop living by our To-Do lists, which often unnecessarily perpetuate the busy-ness cycle that for many of us never seems to end.

The gist, as I recall, was that necessary things will get done whether we list them or not. We will remember to go to the grocery store. We will have clean underwear. We will pay our bills. We will clean the bathroom. We will pick up that birthday gift . . .

These things are probably going to happen on time whether we write them down or not. How likely are we to let necessities and responsibilities lapse? "Senior moment" and forgetfulness jokes aside, my guess is that for most of us, it's really not going to happen.

I think that habitual list people (like me) are actually using our lists to organize thoughts and feel productive. But, much as I like those things, my opinions on clutter are well documented, and lately I'm not so sure that the itemized tasks I've been putting on lists all these years are anything more than visual clutter -- reminders of things I "should" be doing. Nevermind that they will all be finished one way or the other, listed or not, because I'm not going to starve, wear dirty clothes, forget my mortgage payment, overlook that my bathroom is dirty, or fail to acknowledge someone's special day.

Like parsing through a closet during spring cleaning, I'm taking a long look at what I'm willing to put on a To-Do list now. Doing away with them entirely wouldn't work for me. But I've stopped putting low-to-moderate importance tasks on them because of reasons already mentioned. Why make the busy-ness appear any worse than it already is?

My lists are much shorter, my stress level diminished.

I read another thing a while ago that I loved, loved, loved: If it takes less than a minute, do it now.

Since reading that I've discovered (to my embarrassment) that many things I was listing -- either on paper or in my mind -- don't deserve to be on any list because they can be done in less than a minute. I kid you not: clean a toilet, organize my kids' shoes, refill a bird feeder, wipe counters, pay a bill, sort mail . . . I could go on but I don't really like lists anymore. :)

The inspiration for this blog came recently when I was feeling overwhelmed and decided to "organize some thoughts." My To-Do list was three items long, and judging from the noise in my mind, severely deficient at capturing all that was bugging me. I stared at the short, non-menacing list for a while, confused. Then I took a deep breath, felt grateful that I only had three important things to do, and was kind of happy for that perspective.

I'm smiling as I close this, wondering what your thoughts are on To-Do lists. Is their value real or artificial?


  1. I love the idea of the anti-to-do-list. Now I just need to finish everything on my current list and I can practice not writing things down!

  2. I couldn't live without lists! It's the only way I keep myself halfway organized. Although I used to be more obsessive about it. I don't make lists everyday any more, but I do like to keep a running list of things on my plate so I don't forget them (and it's always fun when I've got everything done and can crumple that list up & throw away!). :-)

  3. I love lists--I start each day writing down what I plan to do, or hope to do. Crossing each thing off feels really good. I've always been one who likes to accomplish things. It doesn't bother me if I don't get to everything the day I started the list, it'll still be there tomorrow.


  4. I live by my lists but have noticed the difference between the 'To-Do' List and the 'Should-Do' List. The 'Should-Do' is a stressor that just serves to make me feel bad. I haven't exactly stopped those items but I have separated them from the 'To-Do' List and am much happier for it. My 'To-Do' Lists get done and it makes me feel good. The other list, I may or may not get to but it's okay either way.