The Inherent Dorkiness of To-Do Lists

For a long time I’ve been pained by the fact that to-do lists are kinda dorky.

There’s no denying that they’re useful tools. Without a to-do list, you quickly lose track of all the things you have to do. At the same time, the idea of writing down all sorts of mundane tasks – or, even worse, self-improvement goals, is so embarrassing. Why does it feel dorky?

First off, the people who endorse to-do lists or goal-setting most don’t seem to have accomplished too much. For instance, David Allen (author of Getting Things Done), has accomplished what? He’s written a book held seminars on how to get things done, and been a businessman. Not exactly enthralling.

The diligent, intensely honest type of preparation necessary to write down tasks or set goals clashes with the mental conception of genius: the alluring idea that artists jump out of bed, get high, and are then super-productive and creative. Or that scientists sit down and start writing equations. This attitude about geniuses turns them into gods, apart from mortals such as you or I. It’s a toxic attitude.

Now, the class of genius that we tend to idolize as prospective early retirees is the Renaissance Man (or woman). He can do it all, from reading philosophy to fixing the toilet, from gardening to mathematics.

If you asked people to identify the most famous Renaissance Men, at the very top of the list you’d find Leonardo da Vinci and Benjamin Franklin. It’s well known that Benjamin Franklin indulged in modern self-improvement practices. For instance, he created a list of thirteen virtues that he wanted to focus on each day. He also followed a well-defined daily schedule.

It turns out that Leonardo da Vinci also kept a to-do list, as well as a notebook that was on his person at all times.

Of course, Leonardo’s notebook wasn’t reminding him to pick up the milk on the way home. Bullets included “Draw Milan (!),” “Get the master of arithmetic to show you how to square a triangle,” and “Ask Maestro Antonio how mortars are positioned on bastions by day or night.” But it’s still refreshing to know that through the ages, geniuses have employed similar techniques to get things done – and maybe keeping that to-do list isn’t as dorky as I thought.

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2 Comments

  1. barb

     /  November 23, 2011

    Are you calling me a dork?
    I think it is a mind set.
    I am getting older so maybe a list is a way of focusing your priorities.
    Maybe it is a way to filter out needs vs wants?
    How about a list of all the wonderful things you could do to help mankind.
    Would that be less dorky?

    Reply
    • m741

       /  November 23, 2011

      I’m just saying that at first glance creating a to-do list looks dorky. But a lot of smart people do it (Benjamin Franklin, Leonardo da Vinci) so you’re in good company!

      Reply

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