Are You a Compulsive List Maker?


My sweetie gave me a coaching lesson last night (for free!) and I’ve been pondering her advice ever since.

I was bemoaning working hard all day–in my office for about nine hours–yet I had a sense of non-accomplishment.  Those kind of days make me a little crazy!  Do they you?

She asked me to shift my thinking about why I’m doing the work I do.  I’ve been self-employed for several months and am developing a client list of good people and organizations in a field that I love.

She reminded me that I no longer work from a “check the box” perspective that plagues those of us who have outlived our usefulness in a job.  Instead, my sweetie suggested that I focus on filling my days with the enjoyment of working and that I focus less on scratching tasks off my to-do list.

Are you a compulsive list maker?

Holy cow, I am!  It’s in my genes, I think.  My brother and I used to tease our mother for making lists of her lists!

I have vivid memories of Mom sitting at the Formica kitchen table with pieces of scrap paper copying the non-scratched off items from one to another.  Except, to be clear, Mom didn’t scratch through a completed task, she made a string of squiggly, curvy lines through it.

Her daily to-do list rested next to the ongoing grocery list on top of the monthly calendar (no-line blocks for each day) in the kitchen drawer.  For a good many years before she retired, I think Mom based the success of her day on the number of squiggly lines on the scrap paper.

Oh dear.

I think I’ve become my mother.

Compulsive list-making spoils Now moments.

Mom and all her lists (The annual family summer vacation list began weeks in advance!) were a part of an era that didn’t place a high value on living in the moment.  That concept was decades in the future.  Had I asked her back then if she thought all her planning took her away from being present, I might have been smacked for being smart-mouthed.

Fortunately, you and I are part of the Now era.  And I am aware that each time I am hyper-focused on my task list, I’ve stepped into the future. Plus, I’ve lost a snippet of Now.  

Now moments are precious and I don’t want to lose anymore than I have to.  Surely there’s a way to create a reminder list that isn’t inherently obsessive?

I’m open to ideas, my peeps.  I don’t know if I can work completely unstructured, meaning without a list, because there are things I must remember.

But putting an item on my list just so it can be scratched off is a tiny bit obsessive, don’t you think?  Oh, I know I’m not the only one!

Seriously, tell me your ideas.  But please don’t remind me that I have control issues.  I have that particular awareness, thank you very much!

Let’s make a list of how to use lists!  Now you’re talking!

Photo courtesy of hotblack

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  1. Cari says:

    I have been struggling with exactly the same thing. My undone tasks bring up self judgement, which leads to me making daily to-do lists that are way too long and frankly undoable. Then I feel bad when I don’t finish them! It’s like a double whammy. I’m experimenting with a list only of things that MUST be done today to avoid a bad outcome. But I would love to hear other solutions, because this one still doesn’t feel like it’s fostering the kind of joyful life I want to live.

  2. Beth says:

    I hear you, Cari! I want to focus on fun and joy–our lives today just aren’t meant to be lived like the women of generations past.

    So I’ve thought of a couple of things, actually three. See how these feel to you:

    1. For every two to-do items on the list, write down one fun thing–and do it!
    2. Instead of a daily list, create a weekly list of no than a dozen things. This list doesn’t include “regular” chores.
    3. Keep a list but don’t scratch or check anything off. Might that eliminate self-judgment?

    I haven’t tried any of these yet but I’d be interested in your thoughts.

    Have a great weekend!

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