During a recent desk move at work, we uncluttered three years’ worth of, well, clutter. A lot of re-discoveries were made: Lost pens were reunited with their owners, papers overdue for the bin finally met their dues, and this:
I had managed to accumulate six notebooks’ worth of daily to-do lists.
Seeing them piled up like that was a bit alarming. I mean, SIX NOTEBOOKS? Isn’t that a bit much? It’s not like I was particularly busy these past years… And given those blue Coronas are about a 100 pages each, it would mean I was averaging about 2.3 pages per day… hoooowwww? But more importantly, WHYYYYYYYYY???
Because apparently, it’s good for me.
In an attempt to find out if this behavior was normal, I googled and found* this interview with Lifehacker’s founder on her own love of lists. She called to-do lists a form of “anxiety management”.
For me, goal/project/task review and organizing my todo list is a form of anxiety management and stress relief. When I’m feeling overwhelmed by how much there is to do for long-term work, having a plan calms me down because it makes me feel like I’m on the right path.
–Gina Trapani, “How Lifehacker’s Founder Gets Things Done (And Stays Sane)“
I agree 100%.
Making a plan for my day makes me feel like I’m in control. It gives me direction — I do not feel lost, and do not feel (as) anxious. I’m normal, apparently, just maybe a bit of a controlfreak.
And if that hasn’t convinced you, this Psychology Today article breaks it down further into six benefits. See? NORMAL.
Because it has to do with my personality.
I also may just have a natural affinity towards lists. According to my MBTI test results, my behavior is typical for someone with a Judging preference:
To others, I seem to prefer a planned or orderly way of life, like to have things settled and organized, feel more comfortable when decisions are made, and like to bring life under control as much as possible.
–The Myers & Briggs Foundation, “Judging or Perceiving“
Planned? Orderly? Definitely sounds like list material.
If you haven’t yet, I encourage you to take an MBTI test yourself. It helps explain some of the behavior and preferences you have… and maybe you won’t seem as crazy as you think you are.
And do let me know if you’re a fellow INTJ.
Because of… culture?
Now I feel this one is a bit of a stretch, but according to this interview with scholar Umberto Eco, we make lists to make infinity comprehensible:
The list is the origin of culture. It’s part of the history of art and literature. What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible. It also wants to create order — not always, but often. And how, as a human being, does one face infinity? How does one attempt to grasp the incomprehensible? Through lists, through catalogs, through collections in museums and through encyclopedias and dictionaries.
–Umberto Eco, “We Like Lists Because We Don’t Want to Die.“
Personally, I feel the interview is a huge intellectual joke (or maybe I’m not smart enough to get it). It reads like my first reason, the benefits, but more verbose and generalized to encompass all human beings. Too general, actually, that it has completely missed the point for spontaneous list-hating Perceivers.
Do I count the culture aspect as a good reason? Not at all. But is it interesting? Oh yes, which is why I wanted to include it here. Do read through the interview; It’s worth your time.
Conclusion: Loving lists is perfectly normal, even if you (I?) painstakingly write ~2.3 pages of it a day.
Also, you’re not alone. Umberto Eco compiled some famous lists in art and history in his book, The Infinity of Lists. I haven’t read the book, but with the interesting author interview above, plus the fact that the book is illustrated… It warrants for consideration on your bookshelf.
*I had actually been looking for a Lifehacker article on how lists help you be productive. Instead, I found dozens of articles recommending and/or comparing task management apps. It made me think how, for the search results to be skewed that way, people must look up task management apps more often than figuring out if they’re effective at all.
How about your to-do list? Do you prefer apps as well? Analog? Or no to-do lists at all?