When To-Do Lists Aren’t a Good Thing


Let me start this post by saying I am not against to-do lists!! I am very much for keeping lists and managing life’s commitments and priorities that way! However, lately I’ve been reflecting on a lot of things in my life, and my to-do list system is one of them.

Organizing and compartmentalizing all the chaos in life is a favorite thing of mine! To seize some abstract task or worry out of midair, and twist and mold it into words on paper in a neat little list…it makes me feel all better! I’m constantly tweaking and adding to both my mental and written to-do lists. Do you do this, too? I feel more in control when I’ve made a list…and even better when I start checking items off of it! It’s an addicting feeling.

But I’ve come to realize recently that I often have an unhealthy relationship with my beloved lists. Some things have got to change, and I’m determined to get a handle on how I approach my list-making in the future. I’m definitely preaching to myself today, but I hope you feel encouraged in your list-making as well!

When To-Do Lists AREN’T a Good Thing:

1 // When you allow them to dictate your self-worth. Completing the items on your list – or not – does not, I repeat, not determine your worth! It’s amazing how some of us tie our own value and perception of ourselves to whether or not we got today’s list done. (I need to remember daily that my worth is found in Jesus and not in what I accomplish.)

Even if things happen during the day that are out of my control, I tend to find myself discouraged when I encounter my neat little to-do list, unfinished, that evening.

But IT’S OKAY! It’s okay not to get all the things done, all the time. There’s something to be said for resting or resetting…or simply needing to address what is truly more important that day. Which leads me to my next point:

2 // When you are frequently putting them ahead of the people in your life. I will be perfectly honest here. I struggle with this. It’s a selfish tendency of mine. I certainly don’t do this all the time, but it is a struggle I have. Sometimes I call it “Mary and Martha syndrome.” Instead of choosing to invest time and energy in serving others, I have a strong tendency to want to go home and accomplish my ever-mounting to-do list instead. Some people are good at putting their to-do lists out of their mind when they’re with others, or out and about. I’m not one of those people. What I feel I should get done will weigh heavily on my mind if I don’t proactively watch my thoughts.

My daily prayer should really be, Lord, help me to prioritize. Show me the tasks that YOU would have me do today – so that I don’t do ones that are self-serving all day. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with getting the laundry put away, the dishes done, or even wanting to shower and get ready! Those are necessary tasks! However, if I find I’m suddenly exasperated when an opportunity comes up to serve someone else (in whatever small or big way), then I really need to check my heart. I hope that some of you can empathize with me here! I’m not trying to come off as someone who doesn’t like to serve others; I’m just explaining my personal tendencies with my frustratingly sinful heart.

3 // When you don’t organize them well. To-do lists TOTALLY lose their efficacy when they are just huge! When the to-do list is too long to even begin to prioritize it, then you know you just have too much. I’m at a good place right now with my lists’ lengths, I think 😉 but it took some paring down! I simply can’t have 42 items on today’s list, with no form of organizing them. If I’m listing tons and tons of tasks, then even glancing at my list will be counterproductive. I’ll just get discouraged and overwhelmed! (I used to do things like write “Monday” at the top, and then proceed to list over 20 items. There was no way I could get those all done in a day! Then they’d carry over to Tuesday’s list and discourage me again.) That’s just a bit overambitious.

To make my lists, I primarily use a free account at Evernote.com, and my physical planner. On Evernote, my brain often just wants to dump all my lists into one giant list…and I’ve learned the hard way that that’s not good! Instead, now days I list “Home Tasks” and “Computer Tasks” as categories, along with the most pressing items at the very top.

4 // When they stress you out! Here’s the thing. Some tasks have deadlines and must be done, and we can’t really help whether or not the mandatory things are there. But, I’m talking about items causing us undue anxiety. I’ve seen helpful rankings and grids before that help you classify tasks as urgent/non-urgent and important/unimportant. Whether or not we use those grids, just being able to assess whether a task is urgent or not, or important or not, is a useful skill to have!

For the purposes of today’s post, when I’m talking about my to-do list, I’m talking about extensive lists that include both essential and especially non-essential tasks. That’s my area of weakness. I like to list non-essential tasks and, the worst part is, then I stress out about those! (For example, should I really get worried that I had planned to wash our sheets today, and it didn’t happen? I think the sheets can last one more day without being washed!) Sometimes, we just have to accept that some non-essentials won’t get done…at least not right now. Maybe not today, or even this season, but that’s okay! You have to give yourself some grace!

5 // When you craft them instead of accomplish them. I’m guilty of this. I used to be a lot worse! I distinctly remember during my senior year of college when I felt like so much was up in the air in my life (in terms of elementary education license testing, student teaching placements, knowing where I’d live and teach after graduation, and so on), I’d take my time lovingly, carefully crafting my to-do lists in my planner. It was almost as if I felt my success relied upon having a very neatly written ledger of tasks in front of me! It sounds so silly as I type that out now, but I wonder if something in me my senior year almost believed that, even semi-superstitiously!

It IS usually really wise to make lists, of course! I’m not going to stop making lists at all; however, I do want to stop making them just for the sake of making them, especially if it doesn’t all need to be written down! Life is just too short.

It’s not always wise or helpful to write down tasks that should just be done quickly right then, instead of being written down. If it’s something that you’re not likely to forget, then maybe it doesn’t need a place in the to-do list.

I’ve literally had to remind myself lately to get UP and do that task; instead of taking the 5-10 seconds to add it to my to-do list; if I just dedicate a minute or two to that task, it could actually be done already! 🙂 Do I really need to write a note to myself to send an email if I’m already sitting in front of my computer? Do I need to write down that I should enter my grocery receipt into our budget app if I’m already holding my phone and the receipt is a few feet away?

Moving Forward:

Whew. I hope someone else out there can really relate! The to-do list battle is a crazy thing, isn’t it? If you were nodding your head as you read this post, I want to hear from you! How do you approach your to-do lists without becoming frustrated or overwhelmed?

What I desire to do, moving forward, is to prioritize people over tasks, jump up and get tasks done instead of writing every little thing down, and learn to accept that it can’t all be done today! Taking a healthier approach can result in greater productivity in the end, and in increased joy!


  1. Number 5 is so so true! I did this in college, too. I would have the most beautifully written, designed, and crafted list – but it still didn’t mean any of the tasks were actually accomplished. It reminds me of something Gretchen Rubin says, “Work is one of the most dangerous forms of procrastination.”

    1. Yes! That is a great quote, Sydney! Thanks for sharing! It’s nice to know I wasn’t alone in the beautifully crafted list category 🙂 It can be hard to start accomplishing tasks when we already may get satisfaction from just writing them down! Thank you for reading along!

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