The Lists That Keep on Giving

Lists are both my savior and my bane. Like many, I end each workday by writing out what I want to get done the next day. I compose each list in a small notebook that I keep on my desk. A pen bookmarks the most recent page so that it’s easy to reference again and again. Sometimes I open the notebook to draw a swift line over a completed task, and other times I add more notes: follow up with so and so. Make revisions to the home page layout. Sketch logo concepts, etc.

There are beautiful days when I check off every single thing. I make a final cross-out, and then I detach from work in a state of complete peace. But these days are very rare. That’s because work is never really done.

Sometimes this fact drives me crazy, but I also know that it’s a good thing. While it may feel great to accomplish everything I set out to do, the relief of closure is temporary at best.

I may only aspire to do three simple things in one day, but my version of finishing a task doesn’t mean that it’s actually finished. Sometimes I’ll send work, crossing it off my list with satisfaction, only to get feedback 10 minutes later asking for a host of revisions. Even if the next round of work doesn’t fit into the day’s list, I know I’ve got to fit it in somewhere.

For me, closure is an elusive treat rather than a daily norm.

Whatever I don’t get done in a day goes to the top of tomorrow’s list. Instead of feeling bad about unfinished work, I try to take comfort in knowing exactly what I have to do the next morning. Since I’ve already spent the previous day contemplating the tasks at hand, I’m ready to tackle the rollover work and then slide straight into the next thing.

Every list item is a small block that will eventually build a completed project, but no block does much on its own. Even when the grand structure reaches completion, it will only stay that way for so long. Soon there will be a need for project 2.0, and then tweaks and then 3.0 and so on. There is always more to adjust, to optimize, to refresh and revise. This ongoing opportunity for improvement is not a burden but a privilege.

So while I love lists, I use them as guides rather than dictums.

I know I won’t finish everything I wanted to do today. When Friday comes, I’ll probably feel a tinge of guilt for not making more progress on various projects. As 2016 closes, I’ll reflect on what I failed to wrap up before the new year. But that’s okay. Just because I didn’t complete everything in a timeframe that I arbitrarily assigned to myself, it doesn’t mean these things won’t get done. The fact that there’s more to do is energizing. I’m already excited to start a new day.