The tyranny of lists

Crazy ListsI’ve got a confession to make. I’m addicted to lists. The problem is, my addiction can be a bit overwhelming at times. You may ask, what do you mean an addiction to “lists”? Well let’s just say I’ve got more todo lists floating around than aliens at a trekkie convention. And it’s just as silly too.

I’ve got a todo list in the admin section of each website I maintain (4), I’ve got a todo list on my desktop at work, I’ve got a todo list on the stikkit webservice (well actually more than one todo list), I’ve written simple text files that contain todo lists for various coding projects I do as a hobby, I maintain a todo list on my Palm Tungsten E, and last but not list (err least) I have a nice fancy todo list on a pad of paper in my home office desk drawer (albeit it’s been sitting there since…well a long time).

I’ve tried to convince myself that I keep all these lists for the right reasons:

  1. De-clutters my brain to help me focus on what I am doing rather than wasting precious bio-computing power on remembering what I’ve got to do.
  2. Provides a way of marking milestones and tracking tasks achieved. (There’s nothing like looking at a list at the end of the day and seeing a bunch of checks, or stroked out lines!)
  3. Prevents me from forgetting something (see point 1)
  4. Organizes my life and helps me plan what to focus on – saving time because I’m not trying to figure out what to do next.
  5. Multiple lists are for multiple streams of activity – I do try to put relevant information on the lists that matter (for instance my blog lists only have todo items related to that blog, I don’t use them as reminders for my appointment with the dentist).

Even though these are great reasons for keeping a todo list I think it’s possible to go overboard and become a list-aholic. I think I’ve crossed the threshold into the realm where I have so many lists, and so many todo items that,

  1. My brain is cluttered with all things I want to add to a list.
  2. I’m adding items faster to lists than I am completing – the checks and crossed out lines are dwarfed by the enormosity (hey is that a new word?) of unfinished tasks.
  3. I’m starting to forget things because there’s lists I’m forgetting to check.
  4. There’s a point at which the organized lists start to cost time rather than gain time. In the realm of a list-aholic the number of todo items becomes so overwhelming that choosing what to do becomes a brain exhausting feat.
  5. Multiple lists are like leaves in the fall. On the tree they look pretty – but once they start to fall it’s just a big pile.

Here’s the thing. I really think that the more dependent you become on lists, the greater risk you have of becoming a list-aholic. What’s worse, you start to lose your ability to remember anything! It’s true! I really believe that if I continued down the path I’m on I will eventually have to have a list that has my name, my address, my phone number, my PIN, my wife’s birthday, our anniversary… aww man, I’m writing a list again!

O-kay here’s the point and the question to discuss: Too many lists (todo items) actually decrease productivity. Do you think that’s true?

As for me and my addiction? I’ve decided to start changing:

  1. I’m going to try consolidating various lists I make (stikkit looks good right now)
  2. As much as possible keep a ratio of completed to new items at 2:1
  3. Practice remembering more instead of relying so much on writing it down/typing it up.
  4. Keep shorter lists – don’t add anything to todo unless it really really needs to be added.

Shucks, I just realized I’m writing another list – now I’ve gotta go and get 8 things done…

Leave a Reply

Up Next:

Twitter Updates for 2007-03-27

Twitter Updates for 2007-03-27