The Compulsive To-Do List (That Never Gets Done)


I…make lists. When I’m not doing anything else my first resort will be to make a to-do list for things I need to do later. When I’m waiting for something at work – a reply back from someone taking their sweet-ass time, a computer to finish what it’s taking its sweet-ass time to do – I grab a pad of Post-It notes and write a list.

Normally it’s of things to do in the evening, or on the weekend. It’s sometimes a shopping list for groceries or other sundry items. It can even be a long-term to-do/shopping list. Sometimes it’s a budget, sometimes it’s a wish list for the next gift-related celebration, and sometimes it’s a brainstorm of ideas to write about here.

But I rarely get around to the things I write down.

I have far more ideas in my head than what I actually get around to writing here, and I have even more jotted down on paper. I can plan minute by minute how my evening should be productively spent but rarely are half of the items taken care of. As much as I try to plan my purchases there’s always an impulse decision to buy something not on the list, or not buy something on the list. Writing these things down on paper is basically meaningless.

So when I used to make elaborate lists of colour-coded things to do on a monthly, yearly, or 5-yearly basis, it was a futile plan of taking action and accomplishing things. It’s a good thing, then, that I hardly started that organizational habit to motivate myself. I liked making the lists. I even made the logo above to represent the oddly compulsive need to create this list – but without the obsessive component that actually keeps my mind on the things written down.

It’s a mindless thing. The real “to-do” item is writing something down (see: The Zombie Medium). The binder of short-, medium-, and long-term tasks or goals was more for the sake of colour-coding and picking a good font to use, and as each category covered a different aspect of life it was a mental exercise to think of a minimum number of activities in each one. That hobby stopped when the thrill of creating the list faded, in spite of the steady flow of items to include.

And you should be glad. If I religiously went by my to-do lists, I wouldn’t be writing this right now. I would be washing dishes or scrubbing the bathroom sink. Most of us don’t look forward to tasks like that – that’s why we write them down, to enforce ourselves to attend to these duties. So if we’re going to avoid them anyway, why not make it even more satisfying by staring at the face of the list and doing something else instead?


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