435: To-Do List

How do you keep track of your to-do list?

Full episode script

OK, I’ll admit it. I started a list for this episode. A list, specifically, of to-do list apps and notetaking assistants and even to-do list craft projects on Pinterest. I went seriously down the rabbit hole, which I find amusing given that my personal to-do list is usually written out with pen and paper, old-school style. Even though I live my life largely digitally.

And there’s good reasons to keep a to-do list. Especially if it is one that is prioritized and organized to be truly useful. In May of 2017, The Guardian paper wrote a veritable love letter to these lists, pointing out several researchers throughout history who agree.
Quote:

Baumeister and Masicampo from Wake Forest University showed that, while tasks we haven’t done distract us, just making a plan to get them done can free us from this anxiety. The pair observed that people underperform on a task when they are unable to finish a warm-up activity that would usually precede it. However, when participants were allowed to make and note down concrete plans to finish the warm-up activity, performance on the next task substantially improved. As Bechman notes: “Simply writing the tasks down will make you more effective.”

Yet as Fast Company pointed out in 2015, to-do lists can also have a hand in the feeling of completely overwhelmed, and feeling like we have no time or ability in our lives to actually – you know – get things done. They advocate for a “got-done” list, which is written to highlight the tasks that are actually completed, and even how they dovetail (or not) with our values. Quote:

Whereas to-do lists track deficits–things that need to happen by a certain time–got-done lists make tallies of all the things we do, however small, to fulfill the core areas of our lives. Regularly writing down–and checking off–your accomplishments creates a self-reinforcing cycle. It helps you visualize and appreciate the attributes you possess that drive you toward ever bigger goals. Show me a to-do list that made you feel that way.

What’s the basis of this difference? Got-done lists help remind you that big goals can be deceptive; more often than not, they’re simply the aggregation or conclusion of a series of smaller, infinitely more manageable tasks. But if you don’t make it a habit to reflect deliberately on the ones you’ve accomplished, it’s extremely hard to see that.

Personally, I think it’s a difficult and yet important mix to keep in mind. To-do lists can keep us going, keep us organized, and make us more effective. Got-done lists, though, perhaps should also have a space in helping remind us what we’re actually doing to live the kind of life we want to live — or help us figure out where we need to shift.

This script may vary from the actual episode transcript.