My To-do List System

I've had a to-do list in my pocket for at least the past decade. It's evolved over time to meet its functional need. My philosophy on the hows and whys of a to-do list has also evolved. One thing I'm sure of is that there is no perfect list system. Here's what I think:

  • Get everything down, especially the things you don't want to think about. Shame is a useful, human function but it usually goes further than necessary. It's a relief to not worry you are forgetting about a task. 
  • Create categories as needed. A category is like a folder or a container. When you have an intimidatingly complex and large list of tasks, it's nice for your brain to put cluster the tasks into projects (categories). This is one element of effort and craft involved in a to-do list system. We like to categorize because it is an efficient way to look at the world, although we have a responsibility to be mindful of how we categorize...
  • Prioritize. This is one of the harder parts of life. What is actually the most important? I find we easily get paralyzed when things are too complex. Once you set your priorities, you know which steps to take next.

I have a word document that I print to paper and carry around.  I like my stylus but it's pretty hard to beat pen and paper.  

Here's my current to-do list.  It has some arguably embarrassing content but I believe it is best to understand your weaknesses.  The redacted content is on behalf of my friend's and employer's privacy.  


Simple Concepts I Easily Forget

We all struggle with different challenges throughout our lives. Those challenges change over time and vary between people.  A large part of who I am comes from the challenges I've faced and the manner in which I've faced those challenges.

I've worried about things as long as I can remember.  Some of this worrying is probably written into my DNA but the largest factor seems to be the unhealthy, dysfunctional family environment I grew up in. I've been told I worry too much and, sometimes, I agree.  At the same time, worrying has kept me prepared for some pretty ridiculous situations.  

The question now is how do I value the present moment and enjoy things as they are?  

Daneil Kahneman offers a great lens to look at this problem.  He says we have two systems within ourselves 

  • System 1: Fast, automatic, frequent, emotional, stereotypic, subconscious
  • System 2: Slow, effortful, infrequent, logical, calculating, conscious


I see a theme in life. Sometimes we give up too early.  For those who persist, progress is their reward. Success, to me, is about continual improvement.

By identifying, and acknowledging your short comings, you can work on them.  This first hurdle is where most of us get stuck. One of our greatest human strengths is our adaptability, but this strength also becomes a weakness because we can sweep problems under the rug rather than confronting them.  But who am I to say what is right?  There are people who live on pennies a day but they are happier than the average american... as to say 'Who am I to say they need to 'improve' their lives. I'd have to know the meaning of life to know what 'improvement' means.   

For my personal development, I've found to-do lists are a great way to work around the limits of the human brain.  Our world is increasingly complex and the volume and complexity of our problems has exceeded our individual ability to reliably address these problems.  A to-do list offloads the stress of forgetting. Check out Check List Manifesto.