The Problem With To-Do Lists

I am a huge fan of lists, but there's an important problem with to-do lists that I want to talk about.
The Problem With To-Do Lists

An issue

I want to talk about the problem with to-do lists. Let me start by saying that I am a huge fan of lists, to-do lists and otherwise, I organize my life on lists. But when you check something off on a list, there’s no differentiation between big things or smaller things. Things that took a lot of energy, time, and effort or caused you a lot of stress, and things that didn’t. 

As we keep doing that, as we just keep adding to the lists, it sets the brain up so that it never gets that feeling of satisfaction.

So “I wrote the text for a website” could be the same as “I bought apples”, or whatever your big and small things are. That could be very different for different people. Maybe grocery shopping is a huge deal, it actually is for me… Anyway, the point is that when there are things that are a bigger deal: you don’t get any extra check. It’s not like the box is a bigger box, or you get extra satisfaction from checking off the one or the other, because they are visually all identical. You don’t naturally get extra dopamine or satisfaction from, “I did this!” 

The reason that can be an issue is that there’s always more that could be done. We can always just extend the bar for “Okay. I got that done, but there’s still more to-do. If I did that, there’s still more to-do. I could do this, or I could do that, or even when that project is done: there’s still other projects that need to be done.” There’s no limit to how much you could add. 

As we keep doing that, as we just keep adding to the lists, it sets the brain up so that it never gets that feeling of satisfaction. Never gets that feeling of success. Checking something off the list is great, and you get a small hit of dopamine from the completion of that, but some things really do deserve a lot more than other things.

Things that were hard for you. Things that took a long time, or a lot of effort. That cost you a lot. That were stressful for you but you still managed to do it. Things that you had to learn more, or to understand something about yourself, in order to get to a place where it was possible.

What to do instead

So what I want to suggest is, because it’s not built into the structure of the to-do list, to add that in intentionally. It could look like a whole lot of different things. It could be some sort of a celebration, you could just do a little happy dance or say to yourself something that you need to hear. Something that you want to remind yourself of, like “I did that!” 

Add in other ways to acknowledge that certain things took a lot of work, energy, time, and effort, and they cost you a lot more. It’s okay to acknowledge that.

It could be telling it to someone else. It could be rewarding yourself with some sort of a treat. It could be not a reward type of thing, but a celebration. But yeah, we just add in other ways to acknowledge that certain things took a lot of work, energy, time, and effort, and they cost you a lot more. It’s okay to acknowledge that. 

In fact, acknowledging it is healthy for the brain. It keeps the brain able to continually learn, evolve, and grow in positive directions when those positive things that we do in life are acknowledged and reinforced. It’s a healthy personal growth strategy, as well as just feeling good. 

More I could say about that, I could branch into a few other topics that I’m thinking about, but I’ll keep those for different videos in the future. I hope something in this was helpful.

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Heather Cook

Heather Cook

Hi, I’m Heather. I’m an Autistic writer, advocate, and life coach, and I'm building a life I love. I help other Autistics to build their own autism-positive life. I love reading, jigsaw puzzles, just about every -ology, and Star Trek!

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