26. The To-Do List - Friend or Foe?
Is one of your self-organising tools The List? If so, is it the friend you think it is, who acts like a second brain and gently nudges you through the day? Or is it less of a friend and more of a tyrant? This week's tip will explore. I used to be an avid list-maker. Anything that I needed to do, I put it on a list. While I was doing those things, other must-dos would pop into my mind, so I would reach for my list and add them. If my list wasn't to hand, I would find another piece of paper and jot it down there, planning to transfer it to the Master List later on. Every time I completed an item I would take great pleasure in ticking it off. 'Well done, Anita', a voice seemed to say, ' you are thoroughly ok person.' Every morning I would look at my list. Sometimes I would add things. I would jiggle the items around, annotate, and modify them. Each day I would look at the items that resolutely lingered, which never seemed to get done, and each time I experienced a mixture of fear and resistance (about doing them) and guilt (about not doing them.) 'You are a bad person, Anita' a voice seemed to say. If you're a seasoned list-maker you will probably recognise this. If you're not a list-maker but secretly admire people who are then you may be curious. I don't know how many years I made lists for, we're probably talking decades. I was always of the opinion that lists helped me to get things done. They also helped because once something went on my list I could stop worrying about it, I knew that it had been captured. As I'm talking in the past, you have probably surmised that I no longer make lists. That is mostly true, and the reason is that one day I realised that lists were not the good old friend I had always thought them to be. What changed was that I started to notice how I felt when I was interacting with my lists, and the feeling was definitely stress. The more I looked at my list and the more I added to it, the more stressed I became. It was as though I had taken the tyrant in my head, the one who tells me I must always be busy, that I must get everything done and not stop until I have, and immortalised it on paper. That list was my conscience and personal slave-driver. At that point I realised that lists were not my friend at all, but my enemy. I stopped. If you're a list-maker you're probably scared for me. How on earth do I get anything done now? Well the interesting thing is that I get at least as much done now and with much less stress. I do have ways of reminding myself of tasks, a notepad by my bed, the occasional email to myself, but they relate to a very small number of jobs that I plan to do within an hour or so. For larger jobs I set time aside in my diary. If you're familiar with Psychological Type, you will know that there is a pair of characteristics called 'Judging' and 'Perceiving'. Making lists, as I've described them, is the refuge of 'judging' types. Judging types like to be in control of their lives and they like to get things done. They particularly like getting things done in comfortable time - last minute rushes are anathema. The obvious way to to get things done in comfortable time is surely a list? For a 'perceiving' type a list is quite a different entity. Perceiving types like openness and they thrive on last minute pressures. For them a list is less an obnoxious tyrant, and more a vague reminder of something that probably needs doing sometime. (More about perceiving types next time). If you make lists, Try this: 1. What do you believe about making lists? Do they increase your efficiency, save you from sloth, would you forget important things without them? 2. Get out your latest list and read it. Notice how you feel as you're reading it. Do you feel better or worse? 3. Look at your list as a whole - how would you describe your relationship with it? Is this a friend who stops your life from going down the plughole? Or is it a tyrant who never lets you rest? 4. If your list is a friend, keep it! If it isn't, consider trying another way of getting things done. If you'd like to assess your own psychological type, you might like to try the self-assessment programme, right. Also, it has just become available in Kindle format.