Are lists good or bad for us?

I’ve always been a list maker. For as long as I can remember, I’ve used them daily in both my work and personal lives. I’ve always believed they’re helpful though I’ve recently wondered if that really is the case. If anything, I now think they cause pressure and anxiety where it really isn’t needed.

I don’t know if it’s the geek in me or the need to be organised, but I’ve always created and maintained lists. Regarding my personal life, a quick glance at OneNote shows I have the following lists:

  • Daily to-do list
  • Side-projects to do list
  • Writing to-do list
  • Lux Bay to-do list (my music duo)
  • Songs to learn on guitar list
  • Song-writing ideas list
  • Yes, You Can Do It post ideas list
  • Advice For My Daughter ideas list (this is another social media account I recently created).
  • Films to watch list (21 separate lists, split into genres)
  • TV shows to watch list
  • Music – full albums to listen to list

So, something in the region of 30 separate lists. As I type, I realise that is crazy, especially when there are only 3 or 4 of those lists which I refer to daily. The rest are largely irrelevant as I know I’ll never have time to address them. Take the films lists, for example. I love these. I love trawling through movie-based social media sites I follow, reading ‘best of’ articles and adding titles to those lists. However, the reality is I’ll never have time to watch just 10% of these, at least not soon. So, the list is a complete waste of time. The only reason it’s there is because I like making lists about films – it serves no purpose whatsoever. The same applies to the TV shows list and the songs to learn on guitar list. In an ideal world, I’d love to learn all 500-or-so songs included there. Again, the reality is I won’t, due to not having time. If we add new songs to our setlist, we’ll agree them and learn them – the process is that simple. This is yet another list which serves no genuine purpose, except to satisfy my urge to keep lists. I never have time to aimlessly meander through the songs and strum along with 2 or 3 which catch my eye, so what is the point in keeping that list? There is no point…

Even my daily to-do list is ridiculous. To be truly effective, it should contain a small number of tasks which I’m able to complete. It doesn’t – it currently totals 5 sides of A4. It’s been a similar length for around 2 years now. It doesn’t show any signs of reducing. Completed tasks get replaced with new ones, I’m reminded daily of just how much I must do and how ineffectively I use my time, and this makes me mildly anxious / frustrated / angry. It has, on occasion, genuinely affected my mood.

My work to-do list is very similar. Until recently, it amounted to 7 sides of A4. I managed to address this (to a degree) by breaking it down into separate to-do lists: a ‘today’ list; a ‘next 2-3 days’ list; a ‘4-7 days list’, and an ‘address whenever feasible’ list. That’s helped me focus on the important tasks in hand and reduced the stress related to trawling through a single list every morning to highlight what I needed to work on that day. Having 4 to-do lists is still a little ridiculous, though structuring them in this way is working better for me.

I follow a brilliant Facebook page called Becoming Minimalist, which advocates living a simple life and not owning too much clutter. The ‘About’ section simply states ‘Because the best things in life aren’t things. Own less. Live more.’ Some words of absolute wisdom from recent posts include:

  • Your home should be the antidote to stress, not the cause of it.
  • I don’t want my legacy to be containers full of stuff.
  • Want a cleaner home? Own less stuff. It works every time.
  • I’m pretty sure the secret to doing it all is that you don’t.
  • A child is going to remember who was there, not what you spent on them. Kids outgrow toys and outfits, but they never outgrow love and time.
  • May you have the courage to break the patterns in your life that are no longer serving you.

It’s a page well worth following. That last point in particular really hit home with me. The core problem for me in all of this is that I just can’t break those patterns and let go of what I currently have. It’s a ludicrous situation. I should just delete the existing lists which serve no real purpose. I should refine the daily to-do lists to a huge extent, reducing them to just a handful of important tasks to complete. Yet I can’t. I simply can’t do it. The thought of it makes me even more anxious. I know I need to. I know I have to. Yet it’s so bloody difficult. Perhaps one day I’ll get there but for now, I have to focus on finding better ways of addressing this rather than simply deleting 75% of what I have.

Hopefully this sounds familiar to someone out there, even if it’s just one person who gets where I’m coming from. I won’t feel quite as crazy then. I do appreciate that most people reading this may well see it as the inane ramblings of a madman though I’m intrigued to know if anyone else is similar to me…

As always, thanks for reading and take care.

Best wishes.


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