Ditching the List


I turn 48 tomorrow.  And you now have a little bit of an idea as to why the still 47 year old man is partly incapacitated because of all the to do items cluttering his brain.  Is it possible for that habit to change?

The real question might be whether I even need a list at all.  If I had the courage to say no, then I could work consciously to build a whole new set of neural pathways that don’t involve compulsively scribbling down bulleted lists of things to do.  But that might be too much of a thing to ask.  For now it would be enough to just bring the list under control.

What if I still kept a list, but made an incremental shift in how I managed it?  What are the basic requirements given my list keeping pathology:

  1. Infinitely extensible (so bigger than a piece of paper)
  2. Always with me (I start new lists because I don’t have the last one with me)
  3. Enables easy prioritization (Next month’s stuff is separate from today’s)

So against my larger impulses, I’ve reinstalled a copy of Things on my devices and for the last six weeks I’ve been operating off of an electronic to do list. (Just to give you a visual  -Things is running on my laptop and phone and is constantly synching between both)

Why’s that newsworthy? Because (and this is important), it has required me to address a slate of other habits.

  1. I’m training myself to no longer write items down, but instead to add them to the electronic list. The floating sheets of paper have gone away.
  2. It’s forcing me to take a few moments at the beginning of the week to prioritize my activities. And then I can monitor whether the stuff I’m doing is really helping move forward on those New Year’s Evolutions.
  3. I’m not afraid of loss.  The list is endlessly extensible.  And the wild peripheral stuff like Riemann’s Hypothesis?  It can go in the bottomless Someday stack and I need not worry about losing it, nor having it clutter my head.

I hate to say it, but that incremental technological fix is, for the time being, giving me some air cover so that I can get to the real task at hand which is to retrain my underdeveloped prefrontal cortex. I’m training myself to order information, to make decisions, and to follow through.

I am now ready to tend to the next priority:  Dental work.

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