Enslaved by the To-Do List

I was nine or ten years old when I first became a task master. Most days after school, my mom would leave a punch list of chores for me to do while she was away at night school or work. It was always simple and to the point:

  1. Vacuum
  2. Polish all wood
  3. Empty dishwasher
  4. Sweep garage

I wasn’t allowed to go out and play until the list was complete. The list was the only barrier standing in the way of fun. I used to hate it, but I learned to attack it. One by one I crossed off each chore until complete. Even at a young age I had an overwhelming sense of peace or maybe relief when I was finished.

To-do lists became a part of everyday life for me as I grew up. I remember working offshore at 19 on an oil & gas platform and making lists on scratch pieces of paper and carrying it around with me like a compass.

My task mastering found its height in my 20s while working in restaurant management. Endless tasks poured in by the hour. I began each day with a blank 3x5 notecard that often filled both sides by the end of the day.

That index card could always be found in my left shirt pocket and became such an extension of who I was that friends used to tease me by pulling it out and making fun of its contents. One word items like “broccoli” always got a chuckle.

Today, I’m still making lists. And always coming up with stuff to fill the lists. Like the comprehensive spreadsheet I volunteered to create for my boss to track performance or the 22-hour playlist I need for my drive to Montana. It’s a never-ending process and one I’d like to come to terms with. I feel it hampers who I’d like to be in everyday life. Yeah, it’s probably an idol. I guess I’ll put it on the list.



Music