When I was asked to write this article for Adweek, I immediately put it on my “to-do” list. Oh, wait—I don’t have a to-do list. In fact, I have very few lists in my life at all—not ones that were created by me to remind me of all the things I probably should be doing but—wait for it—I’m not!
We have become a society preoccupied with making lists. You name it, we can create a list for it. There are lists of things to do today, lists of meetings to make tomorrow, lists of friends to see next week. There are—and I’m not kidding about this, because I’ve seen them—lists of lists!
When did we become so suspicious of our ability to simply remember without having to write it down? Is it the effect of our constant need to multitask? Are our brains so explosive of other random useless things that we practically need to make a list of “things I like to do?”
We at Real Simple actually know, following years of research, that list obsession stems from a crisis women are having with time management.
I have a brave new philosophy, and I am certain it will be met with skepticism and criticism: Lists are overrated! There, I’ve said it. We’re so busy making lists that we forget to step away from the list and just let our minds wander to wonderfully creative and unexpected places—unexpected because they weren’t on the list.
I am eternally grateful that my role model, my mom, was not a list kinda gal. In fact, I think she was anti-list before lists were all the rage. The only list I ever recall her making was a grocery list, and that was more a function of focus than forgetfulness. As a result, I am loathe to make lists. That doesn’t mean I don’t make them at all, but I don’t get the same perverse satisfaction others seem to get when they—ta-da!—get to cross something off their lists. Now there’s reason for jubilation, huh?
So, I would like to start a campaign to occasionally take back the freedom to forget. The reality is, the important stuff will always be remembered; we could all learn to live without the peripheral items on that list, because the reality is, we probably only added them because we felt lofty and important with a longer list. A short list intrinsically implies we’re slacking.
I think the media industry is made up of list fanatics. We are capable of making lists of the lists we’ve listed. What if instead of putting “call Ann” on our list, we actually picked up the phone and called Ann? What if instead of putting “Study analysis sent by Jim,” we just read his email? And the list goes on and on: “do my expenses,” “write a thank you note,” “schedule the meeting.”
How about learning something cool today? Is that on your list? Explore some new technology that you’ve heard about but haven’t tried. Actually go to the websites you need to learn more about, or pick up the magazines you want to read. Do you need a list to tell you to do that?
A recent research report from Real Simple and the nonprofit Families and Work Institute titled “Women & Time” found that, indeed, women love to make lists. But here’s the thing: They forget to put themselves on it. Essentially, they are compulsive about getting everything on their lists done before they will even begin to do something they enjoy. (In fact, 79 percent of the women surveyed put doing the laundry at No. 1 on their lists. Ouch.) That’s because we have become a culture that has forgotten how to prioritize ourselves.
The research also showed us that when we put ourselves on the list, we’re happier. Fifty percent of women who are proactive about setting aside time for themselves are happier. Additionally, 55 percent of women who ditch the list and delegate say they are more satisfied with their lives.
So next time you’re putting pen to paper or tap to iPad, just stop. Think first about what makes you happy. Be spontaneous. Stray from the confines of the list, or at the very least add things like “spend time with my kids,” “eat dinner with my family,” “schedule drinks with the girls” or “plan a spa day for me.” Odds are pretty good, you’ll be a lot happier—and you will discover that, with or without that list, life gets done. It always does.