On To-Do Lists

I’ll be the first to admit that I can be terribly scatterbrains at times. My mind is constantly racing at a mile a minute, pursuing an endless onslaught of tangential thoughts as I try to work out every quizzical little conundrum in my life. I told myself that running dual monitors on my computer would improve my productivity, but in reality, it could just be providing easier access to distraction and procrastination.

Hey look! A castle!

And it is precisely because my brain tends to operate in this way that it is of crucial importance I write down anything of importance. If I don’t write it down — physically, digitally, or otherwise (ideally backed up to the cloud for ease of access on any device no matter where I am) — I may forget it. Or, if nothing else, it’ll quickly get buried under a deluge of other thoughts and considerations.

The Issue of Time

To this end, I don’t think I would have made it to this point in my professional career as a freelance writer, blogger and Internet person if I didn’t utilize to-do lists extensively. I might even be overdoing it. I have a larger to-do list that I compile from a monthly perspective, a slightly shorter one that is managed on a weekly basis, plus the smallest one (and I say that with tongue in cheek) for each working day.

It’s my way of keeping things organized and ensuring that important details don’t fall through the cracks. Yes, even though I lead some variation of the dot com lifestyle with my predominantly online business, I still have to work. That said, I do enjoy some level of both time freedom and location freedom, meaning that I can “schedule” my work time such that it fits best against my personal or family time.

But I digress.

But There’s So Much to Do

One of the great struggles or sources of frustration that I face far too frequently is the to-do list left uncompleted. I look back down at the list at the end of the day and my attention is naturally drawn to the items I didn’t do, rather than the items I did do. Part of this is the fault of my ambition, part of this is underestimating how much time it takes to finish something (flow is an important consideration), and part of this is overestimating how much time I think I’ll have to work that day.

But there’s always tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. Because when you run your own business and you are your own boss, the only person who is truly going to hold you accountable is you. These to-do lists that I create become a self-inflicted source of guilt and misery, as well as a source of direction and purpose. Like so many other things, to-do lists become a double-edged sword.

The Power of Priority

And like so many other things, the solution is renewed and elevated focus. Some studies have indicated that when you have too many items on your to-do lists (generally more than 7), there’s a good chance that you aren’t complete any of them at all. When you have a more manageable number of items (like 3 or 4), then you are more likely to complete them all. In this way, it’s about mitigating the magnitude and the number of items you assign to yourself each day.

The power and privilege of the dot com lifestyle also results in bearing the burden of responsibility. To-do lists are a tool. They aren’t inherently good or bad. It’s simply a matter of how you choose to use them.

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