Sunday, January 6, 2008

Make the Ultimate "To Do" List.

Thinking he was about to die in a plane crash in 1983, America Online executive Ted Leonsis started writing down 101 things he would do if he survived. The plane landed safely - but the list changed his life. So far, Leonsis has crossed off nearly two thirds of the items, which include catching a foul ball at a baseball game and owning a sports team (he became majority owner of the National Hockey League's Washington Capitals in 1999). Leonsis wants the list passed out at his funeral. [Source: "25 Ways to Reinvent Yourself" originally published in Modern Maturity January - February 2000, transcribed by Greg Olszewski.]

GTO's Thoughts:I can only remember a few things in my head at a time, so I like the idea of creating lists. I'm an expert listmaker and have a list for everything. Business concepts, creative outlets, social activities, web passwords, groceries, Christmas lists, etc. I like lists! But to me the trick is not creating the list (though it might be for you). To me, the trick is seeing the list.

We're surrounded by thousands of pieces of information at any given time in our homes, office, cars, etc. We'd go insane if every glance around our desk assaulted our consciousness with the same information we learned yesterday as though it were new. [Sunday: "Oh, look! I have a calendar! And blank disks! And a talking Jeff Foxworthy Clip-On Doll!"] [Monday: "Oh, look! I have a calendar! And blank disks! And a talking Jeff Foxworthy Talking Clip-On Doll!"] [Tuesday: "Oh, look!...]. I don't want each day to be an assault of information I've already gathered, do you? Maybe you'd be lucky enough to harness your skills and learn to woo Andie McDowell (as Bill Murray does in "Groundhog Day"), but I'd get buried alive in the details. I'd never make it past my livingroom. My brain would be shocked by all this great old stuff.

"Oh look, a calendar and blank disks...!"

So, to combat this informational assault, our brains take everything in and (depending on how your brain works) begin storing new information in the periphery of our consciousness. Just out of sight, but very close by. This is a wonderful blessing.

Of course when we really want to remember something, it's a bit of a curse. We fight our brain's natural inclination to protect our sanity. (Most of our battles are against ourselves, aren't they?)

So the trick to seeing your To Do list is to get it in a place where you will notice it and acknowledge it. Somewhere where it won't blend into the clutter. I used to print my To Do list and tape it to my fridge, bathroom mirror, monitor, etc. I recommend anything that works. It should be somewhere you cross paths often. Try everything. Have a friend come to your home and move the list to a new place everyday! (I've never tried that. Let me know how it works).

One spot I've found very useful for my To Do list is as a background to my computer's desktop. (If you need tips on how to do this, let me know.) This way, each time I sign-on to surf the web or write or play games, I get a glimpse at the things I don't want to forget. It's a pretty good spot if you ask me.

If only I kept my eyes open when I turned on my computer.


  1. I've used so many systems for lists and to-dos. I haven't had a friend move the lists around but I know what you mean about making sure you LOOK at lists. Especially for things you want to get done within, say a week or two. For the past several years I've kept just such a to-do list in my pocket. I haven't yet found a system for remembering stuff that worked any better.

    Simple works best for me. I write my to-dos as I think of them, on a blank 3x5 note card. In ink. More rugged than paper, just the right size for folding in half once and fitting in a pocket. I'm guaranteed to look at the list at least twice a day: When I get out of my clothes in the evening and put the list on my dresser, and the next morning when I put the list back in my pocket. As other things go in and out of my pockets all day -- keys, change, various kinds of preschooler-collectibles -- I might take a glance at the list also. I scratch things out as they get done. Every few days I transfer what's left undone on the list to a new card.

    For little immediate things I need to do *that* *day* I have a sticky note in my car. E.g., bank, post office, call Mom, pick up bananas.

    To paraphrase Annie Dillard, a list is a net for catching ideas. Running a business completely solo has honed my ability to be efficient. Lists are definitely a part of that.

  2. Debbie, I love the 3x5 note card idea! I've used them in the past, but have gotten away from the practice. I need to get back to it ASAP. They really are the perfect size and density. Thanks for the reminder! :)