a page from a bullet journal showing a handwritten list of tasks

This To-Do List Will Not Kill Me

A while back I wrote about using a bullet journal to save my brain. An ambitious title and idea, for sure. I wouldn’t necessarily say my brain has been saved. Marginally boosted? Whatever. I still love my bullet journal and I use it every day. But the main concept behind my daily use is something I’ve been doing for myself for almost twenty years: making lists.

I come across articles all the time claiming that the to-do list is overrated (at least) and actually damaging to your productivity (at worst). To-do lists will make you fat! Making a task list will give you cancer! Writing down daily goals is a fascist activity that leads to rampant capitalism and deforestation! A few months later it’s all about how to make a great to-do list. Gawd I love the media. I guess it’s kind of like how researchers can’t decide if coffee will kill you or help you live forever. The truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Whatever the experts are saying about to-do lists this week, I will always make them and I don’t care if it will kill me. I do care a great deal about forests and stopping fascism, though. I have to choose my battles and I think making a task list is at the bottom of the Things That Are Bad For Humanity list.

So every day — unless I forget or I just don’t feel like it — I make a list of stuff I need to do before the sun sets. It’s not complicated, but I do set limitations on my lists. I try to stick to a max of 3-4 items per day. These are the things that I absolutely must get done that day. On any given day I have a thousand things I could do and maybe should do, but if I listed them all I would A) be completely demoralized by all the things I didn’t accomplish and; B) never get anything done because I would be working on my list all effing day.

If I list three things that I definitely need to accomplish in a day, then after I finish those things the rest of my day is free. Free as in I can do whatever I want, not free as in open source or beer. Sure, I can — and usually do — finish a lot of other tasks in the course of the day, but the main ones are behind me. And yes, I do this for life stuff and not just work stuff. Although there are days where I don’t even touch my bullet journal because I’m just just experiencing the joy of life and living in the moment. Living. Laughing. Loving. Putting up signs in my house that tell everyone to live, laugh, and love. Or to tell them that this is the KITCHEN. In case they aren’t sure why there’s a stove and a sink in that room. Whatever it is, Target will have a sign for those confusing situations.

Of course making this list doesn’t guarantee that I’ll finish everything. Life happens. A work task spills over and I run out of day before I get to the other stuff. I play hooky sometimes. There’s a lot of self-forgiveness that has to happen in this process.

An unexpected benefit of making these daily lists is historical. I can crack open one of my old bullet journals, flip through the pages and see what I was focused on on any given day. What did I accomplish? What did I miss? Where was my head at? Why did I draw a fish wearing a diver’s helmet?

It’s not a perfect system. And that’s okay with me. It works in its own way and I don’t get too caught up in the process. It’s just a habit that sometimes helps me and other times shows me how flawed I am.


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