Lists and Me: a breakup story

I can’t remember life before listing.  For years, each day would begin without a review of the previous day’s list, a compilations of the new day’s list, and usually a few sub-lists for the Very Important things that didn’t make the cut for today. 

I used my lists to stay organized and goal-oriented, focused on priorities and reminded of commitments.  I needed them to keep track of everything from the miniscule (FEED SOURDOUGH STARTER!) to the overambitious (Monday: work, paint shed, host dinner party, etc.).  I tried all the strategies, such as the “could do/should do” model, the “urgent/necessary/it’d be nice” columns and the darling of the craft world, the Bullet Journal.  I listed on envelopes, in notebooks, throughout day planners, and sometimes directly onto my hand. 

To be fair, my lists did a lot of good in my life.  They prevented me from neglecting many an important, albeit forgettable, task (that’s you, litterbox).  They soothed my type A tendency and calmed my inner dialogue.  Write it down and you’re halfway there, was my logic.  It was like lacing up sneakers for a run; all that’s left after is to do the dang thing!

But at some point, my lists went from being neat little task reminders to long tallies of what I wasn’t getting done.  No matter how much I did in a day, I left a soul-crushing amount of boxes unchecked.  And believe-you-me, it was NOT for lack of energetically plowing through days like a deranged soccer mom.

I lost my pause button.  No matter how many times my rational side tried to step in and give me a break, it was scared away by my addiction to crossing items off a list.

So just like that, I went cold list turkey.  I decided -for the first time in too long- to trust myself.  I figured that what really, REALLY had to get done in a day wouldn’t be forgotten.  I could only go so long “forgetting” to shower, right?

It felt good.  It felt necessary.  Best of all, I felt like I had more free time.

That was about two months ago and I’ve been pretty good about sticking to my no-list rule, with some minor exceptions.  My policy now OKs frantic list-making the day before travel (to make sure I actually pack my bags AND shower AND feed my sourdough starter, not to mention chickens, goats, etc.) and also allows for work to-dos to be listed (because let’s be real, the professional list is never the one that keeps me up at night).  But aside from that, I’m duty free.


If you can casually list chores and calmly work your way through them, I envy you.  You’re a better moderator than I.  But if you relate to the crushing weight of endless tasks, written in chronological order, possibly color-coded, and maybe spaced between 3 papers and 2 planners, I send you hugs.  And I have a special list just for you:

  • give yourself permission to break up with list making  

It doesn’t have to be forever, but it might be just what you need for now. 

So trust yourself to forge ahead on your toes.  Rediscover the length of a day.  Life is long if you let it be.