being addicted to to-do lists.

25 Jan

I had a sudden realization today that I am addicted to my to-do lists. And not in a healthy way.  When I’m needing a quick boost in self-esteem, I look at one of my lists and do something to cross something off.  It gives me a momentary high. But it doesn’t last – I immediately go in search of the next one.  It has gotten to the point that I have to put fun things on my list, or they don’t get done.  Actually, in all honesty, it has gotten worse than that (as you will see if you keep reading).

This is a problem.  Not just because I have wired my brain to get a “hit” when I cross something off, but because I am really working hard on “being” more than “doing” right now.  I’m struggling to not define my worth as a human being by how busy I am. I’m trying not to compare notes with others about our busy-ness – trying not to say “Yes, see how busy I am? I must be worthwhile! Right?”  And my to-do list keeps me busy, focused on achievable tasks. And it  tears me away from trying to just be.

But I cannot go cold turkey. And I cannot kick the habit completely because I would neglect and forget a lot without my lists.  However, just because I can’t do everything doesn’t mean I can’t do something (thank you, Edward Everett Hale).  So here is what I am doing:

1)  Eliminating gratuitous use of the to-do list.  Anything that is on there every day, like making dinner or exercising, can come right off. I will do them, I don’t need a “hit” when they have been accomplished.

2) Removing things that are going to happen anyway. Every Monday, I go grocery shopping and pay the bill – I don’t need a reminder, those always happen on Monday.  So they come off the list.  If, however, one of the regular items has to happen a different day than normal, then it can be put on the list since it is different from normal.

3) Removing any reminders for other people.  It is not my job to nag everyone about their jobs. My kid can remember to check her chore list for days she should do the kitty litter. Or at least she should be able to. And goodness knows they should not need a reminder to shower (yes, that was on there too!).

4)  Taking those projects without deadlines off the list.  You know, those things I mean to get to “some day?”  But I don’t get to them.  They just hang over my head and make me feel bad and tell me how I just can’t accomplish anything (which is ridiculous!).  I will hang the family pictures when I have energy for it, and the crystal and china haven’t been unpacked for 10 years – no need to do it now.

5) Keeping work and personal lists totally separate.  My work list is hand-written, in a spiral I carry everywhere.  My personal list is in the cloud. I don’t know why it works that way, but it does.  Sometimes, things end up both places (double hit!!).   If I need to put something on the personal list temporarily as a reminder to put it on the work list (for instance, I get an idea at a restaurant but don’t have the spiral with me), that should be the exception rather than the rule, and it should come off the personal list as soon as it goes onto the work list.

6) No longer putting something on the list after it has been done just so I can cross it off.  This is totally addict behavior.

7) Being gentle with myself.  I suspect this is going to be hard. I will probably feel at sea for a while. On the plus side, the important things that I truly need reminders about will still be there so that I don’t drop too many balls.  But we are talking about changing brain chemistry here, and that is no mean feat.

Blogged about my list addiction. Check! Done.  Uh-oh. Now what?

One Response to “being addicted to to-do lists.”

  1. Annika January 26, 2013 at 1:48 am #

    I am greatly comforted to know I’m not the only one who has to remind a child to shower. *sigh*

    I go back and forth in my relationship with lists. I love my holiday lists. Love, love, love them. It lets me track which gifts are done for extended family (we tend to make gifts– but that somehow makes it harder to track what’s done and what’s not– probably all the projects spread out places) and lets me keep impulse gifts for my kiddos under control by giving me a visual reminder (I set up the list for the kids in columns– kinda like a graph keeping me from going too far overboard).

    But my day to day to do lists and my projects list… we aren’t really on speaking terms at present. We’re in a place right now where I have no time. Literally no time. It’s not working for me and I’m struggling to fix it in a way that respects the needs of the individual family members that led to this place. In the meantime, I don’t need the reminder of everything I’m not getting done. It just makes me feel worse.

    But there have been times when I’ve put things on the list just so I can cross them off. And broken something up into two or three individual list items so I can tell myself I’ve accomplished more than I have. Which is all about your idea of trying to be just be more and not focusing so much on doing and how the lists can get in the way of that.

    What I’m doing– mostly– is raising kids. I try to do a little editing, some writing, a few work-related projects, but with three kids and homeschooling, right now that’s just not terribly realistic. Which is fine with me. It’s a choice I’ve made. But when faced with the dreaded “so what do you do?” question and I see the person’s face glaze over as they check out of the conversation as soon as they hear I don’t have a paid job…. Or when I share what I’ve been working on with the kids with someone close to me and the response is “but don’t *you* want to *do* something?”– then I want to reach for a list. I want to be able to prove my worth. Which isn’t healthy because the value of a human being is not dependent upon their professional accomplishments or, really, any accomplishments that go on a to-do list. To-do lists don’t measure the content of our character.

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