Why I Stopped Writing Lists

And Reclaimed Time to Get Things Done

Andy Spears


Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

I used to be a list person. I’d make to-do lists at the start of each day to map out what I was going to do or wanted to do.

The lists weren’t all that big. Maybe three to five items that needed to get done that day.

As I worked through a day, I felt a sense of accomplishment by checking off the items I completed. The lists were working, right?

Well, no.

Inevitably, something would happen, and I wouldn’t complete all the tasks on my list. A task from Monday would then get added to the Tuesday list. Or a task I thought would take one hour would take two. Then, I’d look down and feel overwhelmed by the three or four items left.

Or I’d get one item done and then look at my list. The remaining three or four items “should” only take two- or three-hours total. So, I’d take a break. Maybe I’d browse social media or watch something on Netflix or take a walk.

Taking breaks is good, right? It is, yes! But I’d end up with a time crunch at the end of the day. I’d feel overwhelmed because now it was two or three in the afternoon, and I had hours of work to get the list done.

I’d make up reasons why the work didn’t need to get done today. Or I’d reason that item 4 would not take too long, so I could push it back. Or I’d reason that item 4 would take forever, so I’d justify adding it to the list for multiple days.

The bottom line: Making lists wasn’t working. I was getting overwhelmed and not getting things done. The very act of writing a list took time. Then, I’d look at it and think about it. Or I’d check an item off, feel a sense of completion, and not do anything the rest of the day. Then I’d wake up the next morning and see four unfinished items from the day before plus know I had three or four “must-do” items today.


Here’s how I solved this problem.

I stopped writing lists.

That’s it.

Well, that’s not all. But that’s essentially it.

Instead of writing lists, I get things done. Yes, I keep appointments on a calendar in my phone. But those appointments don’t also need…



Andy Spears

Writer and policy advocate living in Nashville, TN —Public Policy Ph.D. — writes on education policy, consumer affairs, and more . . .