What’s On Your To-Done List?

my-dream-shopping-list_tanakawho-Flickr_CCBY2Here’s the big weakness of a To-Do List: life can’t be planned.

And (painful reality check), making a list does not make things happen.

You and I make things happen.

The truth is, To-Do Lists can make one want to yell. They can make one forget the magic of other people’s activities and intentions, because other people aren’t conforming to the List’s demands. To-Do Lists can cause resentment of life circumstances while obscuring the beauty.

I’m a lifelong learner, spontaneous-moment-lover, and unschooler of four kids–which means not only can life not be planned, we deliberately aim to let it flow organically instead.

So, for people like me, To-Do-Lists can generate guilt and frustration, which really wrecks the spontaneity of the moment. I rarely write out a To-Do List. It will only madden me. Besides, there are a lot of ways to get around a personal disconnect from the To-Do List worldview.

  1. Don’t assign deadlines, just cross things off whenever you get to them.
  2. Regulate life by the List.
  3. Exercise copious self-martyrdom and let EVERYONE know how hard life is, that the To-Do List did not get completed today. SO hard. SO sad. (While this is some people’s idea of a fun time, I start to hate myself the moment To-Do Pity creeps into my personal paradigm. Bleah, I turn into such a drag, I can’t even stand me.)

I usually have a To-Do List in my head. it looks a lot like Method #1 above. But because the wheel-spinning feeling of “whenever I get there” started to drive me crazy, I decided to trade it in for two other things.

One is a wish list. Every time the future bothers me, or I find myself mulling some unrequited goal or dream, I write it on my wish list. Maybe I’ll get there, or maybe the journey will take me in another direction. Wishes are much less obligatory than goals.

The second is a To-Done List. Here, for example, is my To-Done List from last Saturday:

–Slept 8 hours (this is an achievement for me)

–Took Child #3 for music lesson

–Delivered freezer food to a family experiencing loss (very sad)

–Made lunch and entertained my senile, crabby and beloved grandmother at the same time–takes much energy, one must speak simply and carry the conversation because she’s forgetful and doesn’t form coherent sentences well anymore (draining but satisfying)

–Talked to my parents about their retirement dreams

–Ran out of gas 4 miles from town in a Canadian January with no cell phone, got myself and my 2 younglings rescued, got the car back on the road, got home, dropped off kids, called husband, had meltdown, returned to town on original mission of fueling up car in order to make it to church and funeral the next day. I WIN. HA. Also I feel stupid, but who cares because I WIN.

–Told some people about my publishing project (somewhat nerve-wracking)

–Admired my daughters’ updated wardrobes–always make time for pretty shoes, good karma will result

–Talked to a friend about writing (yay!)

–Talked to very tired, frustrated husband several times–keeping life and each other from going off the rails

–Sat in on husband reading to the kids after supper

–Smooched husband, thus successfully repelling all remaining wandering past-bedtime children

–Went to bed, locked door, ravished husband.

And then I realized that the day may have involved some crap, but I ROCKED that crap. The drained, wiped-out feeling is more often because I lived the day, not because I failed to.

A To-Done List does what a To-Do List can never do. It talks about what really happened today and how you handled it, not what you wanted to have happen and how you imagined yourself handling things that didn’t end up existing.

Things that don’t exist, don’t matter. The things that do exist are worth counting for what they are, not what they aren’t. I would much rather pass that daily value on to my children than the ability to write abstract notions in point form.

Making a list does not make things happen.

You and I make things happen.

That day that sucked? I’ll bet you the Eiffel Tower that you did carpe diem, whether the To-Do List happened or not.

You and I are not our goals, and they are not us. We are people getting down to the business of living, adapting and continuing through change.

So. What’s on your To-Done List?

Image credit: my dream shopping list by tanakawho on Flickr | License: CC BY 2.0


  1. This is SO FABULOUS. Something I really needed to hear. I live by lists…I’m afraid I will forget something if it is not on a list. But I never finish them–well, seldom. I’ve become lots more relaxed about them in recent years, but I still live by them, and live in #3 above waaaayyyy too much. From now on, I’ll keep my lists so that fewer things fall through the cracks, but I’m going to make a To-Done list frequently, if not daily, as well.

    1. I’m constantly forgetting things, and I think I’m going to have to move more to reminder lists the busier life gets with these kids. But wishing and counting the day’s minor accomplishments does help balance me out. I think one day I just wrote down everything I thought about, as well, because I was having a compulsive brainstorming day and it did take time and it did produce some direction for life. Some days, staring into space is work for me…but it sure feels like lost time if I don’t record the internal activity.

  2. Good advice! When I was a young single mom I used to keep a to-do/to-done list. I wrote things to do, but I added things actually done that weren’t on the list and carried forward the things that remained left to do to the next day’s list. The to-done list was always at least as long as the to-do part and there was usually some overlap. So I was able to keep track of progress on planned things as well as see all the other things that had filled my day. This really helped me recognize how much I had accomplished each day and feel okay about the things I’d planned that got put on the back burner.

    I learned to be okay with finishing big things a little bit at a time and to celebrate small achievements instead of burying myself with all-or-nothing thinking. To this day I still get big projects done by baby steps. I know if I think I have to do something all at once it will be too overwhelming and the planets will never line up to make it possible. Latest example: I re-purposed a bookcase from our garage by sanding and repainting it a satin black. This little task took me three days, working in half-hour windows of time. Getting rid of my carpet and replacing it with vinyl plank flooring, on the other hand, took me nearly a year. But it’s done (save for the base-boards).

    1. Yeah, I’m very susceptible to all-or-nothingness. My kids have mostly cured me of it…there’s no such thing as an uninterrupted day. :) Speaking of bookcase and floor, I need to start reapplying this to home renos. I spent too much time racked out with health stuff last year. The house feels overwhelming right now.

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