Vincent Ritter

Just forget it. Keep it simple. Thoughts on to-do lists.

I've never been a fan of using a to-do list system. Nothing ever stuck. The only thing that ever worked for me was TaskPaper. It was simple, and felt like writing this blog post.

Each project I was working on had its own list. But something was not right. It felt too chaotic. I needed a central place for all things "to-do".

Along comes Things, on my handheld and lap-desktop. It's been around for ages. I had the original version years ago. But it never stuck with me. But I bought it last year again, in the hopes to finally get out of my "deep non-work" mindset. You know, that thing that happens when you try to get anything done, but nothing flows from your creative realms... for weeks.

I organised everything, each project, each task and ideas, all into Things. It was a long process. I was surprised I could remember everything that needed doing. Anyway, my biological, chemically stored, to-do list now in a digital realm.

It felt good. Immediately I started ticking things off, because I cheated and added things I did that day. Get my hormones topped up.

This kept going for weeks and months. Organising, adding things. Keeping on top.

Around my interest groups and circles, task management is a huge topic. It's so easy to go down a rabbit hole for that "life hack" of the perfect to-do system and app. Things was recommended to me for around 10 years now (or so I remember).

Then it dawned on me... whilst on a long drive...

This is a massive chore and waste of time.

Before the long drive on holiday I decided to go back to TaskPaper, as that worked for me in the past. Heck, I built Simple Schedule using just TaskPaper to stay organised.

It turns out, whilst not perfect, I was doing stuff before I put it on the list. Sometimes I did tasks and then added them to Things so I could have a log of it. So that I felt good for "doing" something.

But it was all fake stimulus for my brain.

Over months, I started using Things less and less. It dropped off on my radar, although there was a numb pain in my brain that kept telling me to get back into it.

What I started doing instead, was to "just do". I didn't write anything down, no little tasks. Just a big picture overview in my chemically stored list. How I got there didn't matter. Whatever side alley I would walk down, it didn't matter.

Getting to the destination, however randomly it decided, was what mattered.

It was not a list, it was not an app, it was just a natural process of doing. Nothing more, nothing less.

A good quote by Maverick from the new Top Gun movie hits the spot here:

Don't think. Just do.

I see a lot of people over-organising everything. Every little tiny insignificant task on the list.

Just forget it. Keep it simple.

Keep a mental note of where you want to go. Don't hold onto a "I need to do everything" notion. It's a trap. A trap that could probably lead you to depression of some sort; trust me, I know!

If you have too much to do, then that's easy too - just remove everything that is minor. And repeat that process until you've landed at the perfect one pointer.

We're all busy, we all have lives, we all have problems... and a massive to-do list has no place to keep you sweating about it.

There is something special and liberating about just letting life do its thing.

My very own projects no longer have a digital to-do list. Gluon and Sublime Ads used to, but they're gone. Instead I have some high level goals in my head.

For on the "job" tasks, I sometimes sketch out ideas with pen and paper. That gives me some sort of high level overview of what I need to do.

For actual "this is making me money" jobs for clients I usually have a design and a specification document to work from. That is my list. I don't need to tick things off because I just know if I did something or not... that's just how it works.

Every project I work on has its own folder in my brain, and perhaps it's just something I do well (I'm certainly not special and am actually quite "simple" 🤪), but I remember pretty much every single project I touch and where it's at and where I left it.

Yes, sometimes it's good to write things down, so do what works for you. And if a client/your job uses a list, then of course just do your best to balance those things and do what you think is acceptable.

I do think, however, that giving you fake stimulus to tick things of a list is the wrong way to go about life.

Life is what you have right now. This is it. There is nothing more. Right now is all you have. Do what you feel like. Not what your over-organised list tells you. Feel good in the present moment. Steer towards your high level goal for anything you work on and don't sweat it.

We're not machines. We're human.

Yes, we can plan the journey in pain staking detail, but more times than not, it's the unforeseen randomness that makes life worth it and where we gain the most.

For this week, I challenge you to write down (I'd prefer you keep it in your head) some high level goals - keep it super simple. If it's more than 2 or 3 items, remove stuff. Memorise it and don't look at it - your brain should have enough mental capacity to store and recall it.

Don't sweat the little tasks. They're probably not important to keep living a good life.

For September, keep it simple and live a little outside of your to-do list, keeping in mind your goals.

Your brain will continue to come up with "thoughts" in the background. Watch them and also watch out for traps.

Ideas you can write down of course, they're not to-dos.

You'll be surprised how well you can keep a mental note of things to do. Keep doing it for a few days and you'll build yourself a mind-map for each of your projects or goals - heck, even client related items.

You don't need an app for a mind-map, you already have the tools you need. Use them.

Of course this doesn't work for everyone and sometimes you just need a list to keep a client happy, or whatever. Just cut down on some of the garbage if you can, that's all I'm going to say on that topic.

Keep it simple,.

Just do.

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