Thursday, October 27, 2022

I maintain the illusion of control through the use of daily checklists

As much as I like to think of myself as someone who handles ambiguity well, I find my left brain demanding structure, order and a general feeling that "I've got this," even when I don't, in fact, "got this," and even if I don't quite know what "this" even is at any given time.

Thus, I play this game with myself whereby I make to-do lists. Every day of my life, virtually without exception, I have a to-do list. Sometimes I have two to-do lists: one for home and one for work. And as I tackle individual tasks, I check them off the list.

If you are a list maker, I don't need to tell you the immense satisfaction (it's almost a rush, really) of checking things off the list. When you get to the end of the day and every box is ticked off, you are master of your universe, king/queen of your domain.

Or at least that's what I tell myself. In reality, for every one thing I check off, a part of me knows there are five other things I should be doing that don't fit comfortably on a list.

"Love wife," for instance. I don't put that on the list because, you know, it's just something you do, in ways both tangible and intangible.

"Enjoy nature." It would feel silly putting that on the list and then saying to myself, "From 12:35 to 12:40, I'm going to stand in our backyard and enjoy nature."

The truly meaningful things in life are not things you "complete." You can't write them next to a checkbox and then "do" them in a way that suggests you're ever finished.

I know this to be true. Yet I don't want it to be true because it causes two things to happen, neither of which is particularly enjoyable:

(A) I start to think my insignificant to-do's are just a way to keep from making the effort to really live.

(B) I take less pleasure in those checkmarks that usually give me so much satisfaction.

Yes, eventually the grass needs to be cut, the laundry needs to get done, and the oil needs to be changed. Those things aren't going away, and part of being a responsible adult is ensuring they're taken care of. But they're not a substitute for "living," however you define it.

Which brings me to the illustration at the top of this post from one of the popular Frog and Toad children's books. In this particular story, Toad makes a list of everything he wants to do that day, including "wake up" and "go to sleep."

At one point, a strong wind comes by and Toad's list blows away. "Help!" he cries, "my list is blowing away! What will I do without my list?"

Frog suggests they run and catch the list, but Toad points out he cannot do that because "running after my list is not one of the things that I wrote on my list of things to do."

One time this story was brought up in our family text chat to point out how much like Toad I am and to (gently) make fun of me. I laughed right along with everyone else because, let's face it, I am him.

But I get it, Toad. Oh boy, do I get it. Without the list, there is paralysis. It's laughable, I know, but it's also true.

I could probably use a Frog in my life, though I'm not sure whether I would need him to chase after my list or show me I don't need the list in the first place.

Maybe both.


  1. I love the Notes on my iPhone: I have a "to do," "to buy," "to cook," ad infinitum. Must run in the family LOL

    1. For sure! Terry likes to keep her grocery list on our Echo Dot ("Alexa, add flour to my grocery list.")