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When Listmaking Crosses The Line
26-Jul-2012

I am a listmaker. And I know I am not alone. But lately I have been debating whether my lists make me more organized or just make me a raving micromanager of my own thoughts and priorities. My list-making also takes a more traditional micromanagement form, which is to say, arranging and updating our team’s list, too. Kathleen, Kristin and I share a master to-do list on Google Docs that we all refer to daily. They reassure me the list (and my lording over the list at times) helps them see the big picture for the week, and helps us all keep track of our daily tasks. And that’s what lists are for, right? But of the three of us, I think I’m the one that crosses the line into unhealthy list obsession. What are the signs my list-making has gotten out of control, and do these behaviors feel familiar (or freaky) to you? 

I only have four types of lists, really: 
a.) work to-do’s organized by the day and plotted out ahead of time for the whole week;
b.) project milestone lists we need to hit over a length of time; 
c.) grocery lists; and
d.) special occasion lists, like packing for a trip.
This seems completely normal. Why am I writing about it? 
Because here’s where my lists go bad:

1. Formatting The List (For No One But Myself):
This is when I find myself formatting and reformatting our Google Docs list for Braid. I start getting all hung up on how the type looks, how everything is breaking out, if the headers are all-caps, if the subheads (yes, my lists have subheads) are bold, and maybe I should use a tertiary little italic in 7 point that denotes a special reminder, and add a dash line divider between days, and a shorter one between tasks, and so on and so on. You get the drift. Some would argue that creative people need to look at nice typography to be able to think. I argue that it’s kind of therapeutic. But if it takes more than 20 minutes to format your to-do list for the week, then it’s also kind of a waste of valuable time.

2. Rewriting The List (Let’s Say, More Than Twice A Day)
This is where I go back to my list (probably my max has been seven times in a day). But I’m not revisiting it just cross out a task, which is normal checklist behavior. You complete something, cross it out, check the box, and you move on. But I will go in and rearrange line items, add line items, and then jockey them around to different days before this day has even begun. This is called negotiating with your own list. It’s how you make yourself feel like you are accomplishing tasks, but really you are moving them around. It’s a sneaky form of procrastination. And I am no slouch on hitting deadlines. I like to be productive. But rewriting lists is false productivity.

3. Adding A New Item To The List (That I’ve Already Completed)
Oh boy, this one is embarrassing. When I really want to feel a pat on my own back for getting an annoying little task complete, but I know it wasn’t on my list to begin with, I will actually type it in – just so I can promptly cross it out. Sigh.

4. Other Ridiculous Line Items
I will sometimes put “lunch” on my list, when I don’t have a lunch appointment, but am just feeling like it won’t actually happen if I don’t add it. On a rare ridiculous occasion I will write “make tomorrow’s list” as a line item. Others? That’s probably the worst. Come on, you know you have some, too.

Stop Keeping A Detailed To-Do List -Danielle LaPorte

Throw away your list, you say? What!? That’s crazy talk. Or maybe not. I could probably take a note from blogger/author Danielle LaPorte. She points out in her post, “How I Kicked My Time Management Habit”, that if something matters, you will do it. I think about this quote all the time. In fact, I’m pretty sure Kathleen’s the one who shared it with me (you know, the non-list-obsessed of the two of us). Even though Kathleen does share some of her own to-do list tips on her Freelance Matters blog post, To-Do Matters.

Will I ever give up my lists? No. But, treating my lists more like safety nets and letting my actions lead the way, might be a good balance between ditching them altogether and crossing over into total list dependence.

Are you a slave to your list, or flying by the seat of your pants? Tell us on Facebook.


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