To Do, or Not To Do. That Is the Question.

There are people who write ‘to do’ lists, and people who don’t. I’m in the former group and I didn’t even realise there was a latter group until a few years ago.

I had offered to host Christmas Day lunch for my extended family and while it was a relatively small group, I was still overwhelmed by everything I had to do to prepare. The only way I got through it was to write the mother of all to do lists: 43 discrete tasks which I planned out and numbered, making sure that all dependencies were taken into account and contingencies covered.

And the system worked. I had everything so well organised that when the doorbell rang at lunchtime on Christmas Day I was the picture of cool and calm organisation.

When I proudly and enthusiastically showed my sister-in-law my list she gave me the most extraordinary look. It was as if I’d just told her that at night-time I grow a horn from my forehead and a bushy white tail and turn into a unicorn. After a minute she said, “Yes… A to do list.” [Long pause.] “How does that work?”

I blinked at her. “What do you mean?”

“Don’t you just know what needs to be done and then do it?”


I’d never met anyone that didn’t use to do lists of some kind. I didn’t know what to say. I’m also a believer on this topic that if you have to ask the question, you probably won’t understand the answer, so that was more or less the end of the discussion. Not to mention which it sounds rather sad to have to admit that life is so beyond you that without carefully planning every little detail, even something as mildly challenging as hosting lunch for seven people at Christmas would become impossible.

I’ve realised lately, however, that not all to do lists are created equal.

Very recently I spoke with a friend who, like me, is not in paid employment at the moment. We were talking about what we’ve been up to since finishing work and how we fill our days. At one point in the conversation she told me that she used to think that she wasn’t getting to things on her to do list because she was working full-time but now she realises that isn’t the case!

I could totally relate. My own to do list has gotten longer since I stopped working. My friend said that it was perhaps time to go through her list and decide if things are a priority or not. If so, do them. If not, perhaps it was time to take those things off the list.

Which is a very good point. I recently found an old to do list from the late 90’s. It was a bit depressing to discover I hadn’t done about 70 per cent of the things on that list. When I looked at those things, though, they were all non-essential, non-critical, ‘nice to have’ things. The important things had got done.

I’ve reviewed my current to do list and it turns out just over half the tasks are of the nice to have variety.

Will I ever do these things? I don’t know. Probably not.

Does it matter if I keep them on the list anyway? Again, probably not, as long as I’m honest with myself and modify my expectations. Understand that this list is part to do and part wish list.

And meanwhile, if I ever experience the heady high of a to do list ‘win’ again, as I did with that Christmas a few years back, I’ll think twice about sharing it with anyone but confirmed to do list people.


8 thoughts on “To Do, or Not To Do. That Is the Question.

  1. Okay – you can add me to the list of people who make to do lists. There is nothing more satisfying than crossing those things off the list and then sitting down at the end of the day reflecting on all those things you have done. Bliss!

  2. Len, I guess I should be relieved to know that I’m not the only one battling to get through my long service leave list. But isn’t it a great indulgence to add ‘Ignore the list for now’ to the list?

  3. I’m with your sister-in-law – no ‘to do list’ – that also means I tend to live dangerously on occasion and the odd meal is a mixture of v hot/v cold and just burnt. Again, somehow the important things get done – probably because someone has yelled at me a few thousand times first. However I am in that grey camp – don’t do lists but secretly envy those who do. xx

    • That’s what I realised when I looked back. The important things got done…. The other things… Meh! It turns out life went on just fine without getting to them.

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