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Sign of the times: To-Do - Bin The To-Do List

Disheartened by his ever-growing list of urgent tasks, John Hearne has devised a cunning strategy to resist this modern-day tyranny

We don't live in a totalitarian society. So long as we keep within the law, we are free to do whatever we want, whenever we want.

Yet so many of us subject ourselves to a tyranny of our own making. So many of us are crushed beneath the oppressive jackboot of the terrible, the all-powerful, the crumpled to-do list.

Wanna go bowling? No. To-do list says you have to unblock the plughole in the shower. Wanna go to the beach? Sorry, to-do list says you have to delouse the hamster.

Of course, you could try and fool the to-do list by writing in 'Go to the beach' at the end of it, but that would be a bad idea. By adding fun things to a to-do list, you will completely de-fun them. You will arrive at the beach, take out your list, draw a line through 'Go to the beach', and then, well, the only thing to do is leave the beach and go sort out that hamster.

The to-do list never ends. Sometimes it gets too crumpled and you have to transcribe it to a fresh sheet of paper, but it is an inescapable law of nature that for every item you cross out, two more will be added.

You will never draw a line through the last item and toss it into the bin. If this happens, you will look down and realise to your horror that you've just crossed off Item 47: Die.

Okay, you could argue that the to-do list simply breaks the day down into bite-size chunks, that it is a simple tool designed to ensure that important tasks are completed in a timely fashion. In reality, it's so much more insidious than that.

Once you start writing down every piffling little thing you have to do then your memory starts to go. You're not using it any more, so it just, gradually, shuts down. Mine did. I've no doubt it's the to-do list that has me walking into rooms, stopping abruptly and going, "What the hell was I about to do?" It starts with your memory; then it goes for your personal freedom.

Such is the power of the list that if someone were to steal mine and put it back with this addition: 'Throw self under speeding train' -- okay, I wouldn't do it, but there'd be a few seconds where I'd go: "Well, it is on the list."

The to-do list hasn't got much to do with the real world. It's an attempt to imagine yourself as perfect: a person with sufficient get up and go to do all the things that must be done.

But the reason that the list ends up crumpled and curved into the shape of my arse is because it's wedged into my back pocket while I'm sitting on the couch watching TV when I should be engaged in Item 4: 'Go for a run', or Item 8: 'Retile bathroom'.

In fact, my only hope of ever getting to the end of the list would be to introduce a dose of reality to the mix. Instead of the usual fantasy, I could put Item 4: 'Feel guilty about not going for run', and Item 8: 'Have fight with spouse over crappy bathroom tiles'.

In fact, now I think about it, my entire list could be recast in these terms and I could toss it into the bin each evening, safe in the knowledge that something had been accomplished with the day.

Of course, you do have some control over the list. If there's something I positively hate doing, say, for example, bringing the effing bottles to the effing bottle bank, I'll just keep it off the list at all costs.

So when my wife says: "Did you do the bottles?" I slap my forehead and say: "Oh no! It wasn't on my list! And you know dear, if it's not on the list then it doesn't get done!"

And if some clever clogs suggests adding it to the list, I just pat my pockets and say: "My gosh, now where did I put that thing?"

And yes, there is an undeniable satisfaction in drawing a line through completed items, which is why I always cheat, by adding in things I've already done. For example: 'Expose self and loved ones to ridicule in press'. Done! Now where did I leave that hamster?


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