Hello, my name is Jason, and I’m a crossoffaholic.
Have you ever done something that wasn’t on your to-do list, and after you completed it, wrote it down just so you could immediately cross it off?
Me too. All the time. It’s not weird at all.
The truth is, we experience a dopamine hit – a happy little chemical reaction – any time we accomplish something, which is the reason crossing things off our to-do list makes us feel good. (Also, I may or may not believe I won’t get credit if I don’t write it down.)
In general, I am a fan of to-do lists. They help keep me organized. And writing things down allows me to clear out my head so there is space for new ideas to land and germinate.
But beware! Adultitis can use your to-do list to turn you into a slave.
It’s easy to get lost in the dopamine-fueled frenzy of crossing off multiple tasks without considering if they were even worth doing at all. After all, it’s not exactly peak productivity to complete ten chores if you left the most important task undone. Sorry you got all wet because we didn’t put the roof on. But at least all the carpeting got installed!
Another trap is denying ourselves any fun or family time until our to-do list is clear. Does this sound familiar?: You really need a break. More than anything you’d love to have an hour just to curl up in a giant fluffy comforter and take a nap. Or take a leisurely stroll on this unseasonably perfect day. Or soak in a luxuriously bubbly bath. And you will. Right after you finish making those treats your daughter needs to bring to Girl Scouts tomorrow. Just as soon as you put the finishing touches on that report that’s due Friday. Immediately following that school board meeting you’re expected to attend.
This twisted form of delayed gratification sounds good in theory, except that Adultitis is always lurking, happily reminding us of things to add. Checkboxes on the to-do list multiply faster than they disappear. That chance to spend a little “me” time keeps getting pushed off. Meanwhile, your spirit sags and your body begins to break down from all the stress. Before you know it, you’re missing out on the best parts of life.
Adultitis: 1, You: 0.
Remember: just because you add something to a to-do list doesn’t mean you have to do it.
When you added something to your to-do list, it was with a certain scope of knowledge and under a certain set of circumstances. But situations change. You got sick. Or you came up with a better idea. Or you received new information that made that original task irrelevant. When circumstances change, so do the parameters of whether or not something can (or should) get done today, next week, (or at all).
I like having a “Someday Maybe” list (hat tip to David Allen and his book Getting Things Done.) It’s separate from my normal to-do list. It serves as a holding ground for ideas I once fell in love with, but don’t have time for right now and I’m not ready for them to be erased into oblivion. I enjoy the freedom to regularly move tasks from my regular to-do list to the Someday Maybe list, which I review every few months. Simply having it reminds me that my to-do list is not set in stone and is not the boss of me. It gives me permission to update expectations when facts change.
The interesting thing is that when I do review the Someday Maybe list, I often delete some items once and for all. The buffer provides clarity about what really matters and gives me the space to identify tasks that are no longer relevant or ignore problems that no longer need solving.
If you are a crossoffaholic and feel like a slave to your to-do list, perhaps you should consider establishing a Someday Maybe list.
When it comes to to-do lists, the most important thing is to remember that you are the master of them, not the other way around.