“To-Do” List

I am a list maker. I start my day with a list of things to do as though I have a desperate need to write things down—to make order out of chaos. I have a thousand “to-do’s” revolving around in my mind, like a whirlwind causing the thoughts and items to crash and bang into each other like objects flying in the vortex of a tornado. If I can catch them one by one and pin them down, I can bring structure to chaos, body to shapelessness and manageability to otherwise the unmanageable. Come to think of it, even the Creator made order out of chaos with a list: Day 1, Light. Day 2, Sky/Water. Day 3, Land, and so on.

I make a list and then I feel like I’ve conquered the universe. I look at the list and it gives me that all important feeling of control, as though nailing the “to-do’s” down to a piece of paper makes them more doable. Of course, that’s not altogether true because making a list is not enough. I have to make the right kind of list. If it’s too long with too many items and with too much time to complete, my objectives will fail. For example, “Write my book by next week,” is not a good to-do item. Logic dictates if I break it down into smaller, more functional goals like “Write 1000 words by day’s end,” it becomes a good step toward the doable. Even if I fail, I can refine it to an easier objective: “Write 500 words by day’s end.”

Unfortunately, even if I make a perfect list, I may still encounter the unknown—the unexpected interruption when things go “Not as Planned.”   I  start out in the morning with list in hand, determined to begin at number 1 and work through to the end of the list, but the phone rings (it’s a friend who needs to connect—we’ve lost a common acquaintance to illness); the neighbor stops by (to check on containment of the squirrel population running wild on our communal back fence); the front gate buzzes (it’s a florist with a special bouquet and chocolate delivery for me) … At this point it becomes difficult to approach my list with enthusiasm when all I can think of is the acquaintance lost, the squirrels, and the persons who sent me the flowers and chocolates … and I still have 90% of my list to accomplish plus everything else that is a standard day activity which is not on the list.

Does that mean I should discard the list altogether?  I don’t think so. I just have to make a more realistically honest list. While I would much rather make a thrilling list that says, “count my piles of money,” “arrange lunch with friends,” “pack travel bag,” “climb the Himalayas,” “live on an island,” “take long afternoon naps,” “write the book,” — I resort to making a list of dull unavoidable requirements on a MUST DO to-do list. “Call dentist,” “schedule vaccination,” “buy squirrel trap,” “send thank you’s,” “express condolences,” “transcribe meeting minutes,” “fix garage door,” and among a growing list of other items “write 500 words.” Which make me think that perhaps I should move “write 500 words” to a list of desirable goals, a SHOULD DO to-do list which would include “call sister,” “call brother,” “call aunts/cousins/friends,” “cook” (instead of order in), “exercise,” “clear/file paperwork,” “reorganize hallway closet,” and “write 500 words,” among others. Of course, if I’m truly honest with myself, there are items on both these MUST DO and SHOULD DO lists that are probably not going to happen. I decide to move those to a list labeled PROBABLY WON’T DO. The problem with all these lists is that not one of them seems to get any shorter.

“My self worth and value are not measured by the ticks on my to-do list. “

Frustrated with all the items left undone, I decide to make a “have-done” list instead.  I start to write any accomplishment or “win” over the course of the day: things that I’ve achieved not only professionally but also personally …. moments that bring me real joy, or personal challenges that I overcome. Instead of always looking at what else I have to do, I  now reflect on my achievements and celebrate the smallest wins. A tiny change, but it is  monumental and in character with how I perceive success in life.  My self worth and value are not measured by the ticks on my to-do list.  I experience the euphoric, the ecstatic, the inexplicable elation that only a “have-done” list can give – instead of crossing things off, I am adding to a growing list … a list of tiny victories that otherwise might have passed me by, including having written 775 words! 



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4 Responses to “To-Do” List

  1. Yeran says:

    What’s urgent will get done. For the rest there’s always tomorrow. Book … what book?


  2. Taline Tokatlian says:

    Love this!! I, too, start my day with a mental list before getting out of bed, praying that I stay on task instead of getting lost in my talent of procrastination. I then check my actual list written down the night before and add on anything that comes to mind. My daily list usually appears like so:
    Practice Duolingo
    Practice Piano
    Go Grocery shopping
    Prepare Lunch/Dinner
    Go for a walk
    Trumpet/Guitar lessons at 4 pm
    Call tenant in the evening
    Send flowers…
    Sweep the floors

    I do like the idea of writing down what I accomplished at the ene of the day, but I have learned to tell tell myself, “it’s ok….you’ll do it tomorrow. Nobody crumbled because you didn’t iron the clothes.”


    • Taline, your “To Do” list sounds far more interesting and accomplished than others. I see many “self” improvement tasks on there and see how well prioritized it is. I too would leave housework to the end. And I love “Nobody crumbled because you didn’t iron the clothes.”


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