The To-Do List

by Tom Swift

How many things should you try to accomplish today? Any day?

Two?

Four?

Six?

Eight?

Who do we appreciate?

Clarity! Clarity! Yeah!

I will put my pompons away and say: What rates as an accomplishment anyway? Surely, anyone who bathes and brushes her or his teeth and shows up for a job, does that job at least passably well, takes care of their kids and/or their kitty, communicates with their partner or the phone company or the plumber, makes dinner, and/or does the dishes after dinner, has accomplished something. Yet do any of those daily-round matters rate a place on your list of to-dos? Does paying a utility bill? Doing the laundry? Getting to the gym?

I definitely do not think only momentous achievements should rate as accomplishments. After all, we, generally speaking, do not get to the momentous without a whole lot of the mundane. Yet if we rate everything as an accomplishment than nothing is.

I have heard it said (a wise friend) you should have a list of three things to get done each day.

I have heard it said (Zig Ziglar uses this number) you should have a list of six things to get done each day. (And these six things should be ranked in order of importance. If you do not get through all six then the remaining are on your list for tomorrow.)

Should you not settle on a number at all, which is, to be sure, arbitrary, and just do as much as you can? If you try to do as much as you can, do you feel like you should always be doing and not having any time for being?

The To-List: production tool or slave-driver?

I ask these simple questions because I am not a natural planner. Especially on days off, weekends and the like — days when I have a lot of “free” time, in other words — days like to today, as it would happen — I have a tendency to want to see what I am in the mood to do. I like leaving open the door for possibilities.

Especially as a writer, it is hard to judge how long it will take to get my words in — and how many words I will have to say to begin with. Many writers solve this by picking a number of words or by sticking to a set amount of time, regardless of how many keepers come during that time. This is sage advice. Here again, though, there are times when you are struck by a moment or an idea and want to write about that moment or idea while the iron is still hot. It is not, to be sure, always hot.

Of course, the answer to the question of what rates as a to-do and how many of those you should pursue is whatever works for you. Perhaps it is three things: perhaps it is six things; perhaps it is to have no to-do list at all.

Rather than even attempt to find an answer, I find value in scrutinizing the question. My psyche deals in answers. I just need to make sure I have usefully framed the questions.

I ask these simple questions also because I encounter people regularly who struggle to mange their time. A seemingly neurotic or basic problem about the structure of one’s day is not something to feel shame about. Freedom is a gift. But it is not a gift without cost. We were not built for a daily free-for-all. We evolved from tribes — not as solo rulers of our hours. We also evolved without our essential daily needs, especially those around food, being solved for us, like they are, more or less, today.

Some people are naturally better at deciding on how to spend their time. And those people might suggest, intentionally or through their lack of noticeable angst, that it should be easy for all. It is not easy for all. And it is a worthy subject for consideration. You do want to solve this riddle for yourself. For if you do not control your time there are all kinds of people, devices, and chemicals (in food and in non-food forms) waiting to eat that time up. The time you do not claim is time someone else or something else will instead claim: your unused time can easily be capitalized or monetized in way that benefits you not.

Time: you only got it until it is gone.