I like lists. In fact I love lists. Creating. Updating. Interacting. To Think About becomes To Do becomes Done. To Read becomes Read.
Right up until the point where they get completely out of hand. The repetition of tasks and events that come up every week, every month doesn’t leave a lot of space for new ad hoc items so that a few cropping up at once can suddenly turn the mundane into the overwhelming. You carry items over once, twice, a third time. It starts to feel like an insidious little accusation, something that should have been dealt with ages ago. Obviously it should have been tackled back when; now it just smacks of laziness, lack of commitment, insufficient resolve. So you stop bothering. After all, you already know it needs to be done. But once it’s off the list it’s, well, off the list, which has plenty to keep you going. So it just doesn’t happen…
And (usually!) the world doesn’t end. Most of the commitments and obligations we set up for ourselves (and a fair few that are set up by others) are not ‘do or die’. Our priorities and prerogatives are dictated by a myriad of influences, and it’s often surprising how many of them are internal, related to the messages that we send ourselves about what it is to be a good, constructive person, or friend, or family member. We expect things of ourselves that others don’t (or shouldn’t). We drive ourselves to distraction trying to meet ephemeral objectives without stopping to think where they come from, or why they’re important, or what the consequences will be if they are not met. We become overwhelmed, stressed, distressed. And that super-efficient, constructive, helpful to do list becomes a monster reminding us of all the bits and pieces we’ve failed to complete.
Don’t blame the list, but don’t blame yourself either. The list is a tool, a guide, a reference. If it starts to look like an insurmountable mountain it’s an indication that you’ve taken too much on, not that you’re failing to keep up. Cull the list. Have other lists. ‘Things to do if I ever get more than 10 minutes to myself’ lists. ‘Things I’d quite like to think about but don’t have the energy for now’ lists. ‘Things that would be nice to have but books are more important’ lists (feel free to come up with snappier titles of course).
Don’t lose sight of the journey by focussing on everything that’s between yourself and the endpoint. It’s important to consider where you’ve been and where you are; where you’re going and how you’ll get there are mutable.
(For the avoidance of doubt, things like paying your rent, eating, sleeping and taking out the bins do not fall into this category. Some requirements really are requirements. There’s a strong argument that reading falls into this classification too)