Tyrannical To-Do List

The ubiquitous To-Do-List, hereafter referred to as the TDL, is a part of the fabric of American life. Most of us keep one, or maybe two. Then there are others of us who keep a separate TDL in each room of the house, one in the office and one in the car!  Of course, now that we have Smartphones there are those high tech listers who keep their TDLs on their phones. That way the list is always at their fingertips.

So what’s the harm in having at least one TDL, you ask? It runs your life!  You check it in the morning and/or evening or you don’t check it at all and feel guilty about it.  We depend on having it; telling ourselves we do not have to hold that item in short term memory because it is safely recorded on the TDL.

The spectrum of items on the TDL is unlimited. We have lists of errands, chores, grocery items, bill pay items, personal care items, shopping items (both in-store and online), tasks to do at work, social events after work.

We think about the list and check it, too, several times a day. And if we go off to work without said list, well, calamity may befall us!  A friend of mine who arrived at work one day without having put on earrings, felt compelled to return home to put a pair on because she knew it would drive her crazy to stay at  work sans earrings. The same holds true for the TDL. Without it we are crazed by the worry of what we might have forgotten.

I keep a TDL in Outlook, one on paper (at least one), and one in Legacy, my (wonderful) genealogical program. It keeps track of all the items I intend to research the first time I get a chance.

Okay, so these lists sound reasonable, right? But how about the TDL within video games?  The brilliant game designers know the human mind very well indeed. They know that we are driven by the tasks that we must do, so they incorporate the TDL into your game progress. ‘What? Close this window?  No, you can’t do that! You are so close to the next level or to the next flight or to whacking this bad guy!’, it says to you. And they keep you coming back with the tantalizing TDL of the future. You’ll earn the next accolade, or the next badge, or hat, or game money or… and maybe you’ll earn a couple of each!

The human mind is habituated to reaching into the future. That is precisely why the TDL is so compelling.

And what if you don’t get something on the TDL done? Do you just move it forward to tomorrow’s TDL? Do you write down things just so you can cross them off? Because it feels so good to cross items off the list, right?

Try going through a day without putting down anything or checking anything off a TDL.  In fact, don’t make one at all.  Are you sweating a bit just at the thought of that? Then plan this experiment for a weekend day.  Just see what happens! Watch how many times your mind tells you that you should just jot down a couple of things. And how many times do you reach for that TDL on paper or on the smartphone just by force of habit?

It does have its place. The TDL is helpful. I’ll be the first to admit it. But guess what? When we step out of this body when the Cosmic Alarm tolls for us, there will be plenty of items remaining on the TDL.

It is okay to stop… to simply stop this mad busi-ness as if we were going to win some kind of heavenly prize for being the one who does the most chores.

Bottom line: we are human BEINGS – not human DOINGS. It is okay to s-t-o-p now again – to put down the TDL, focus on our breathing and know that right Now all is well. The Universe if complete and balanced just as It is.

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