Unless you’re careful, life can become one long to-do list. From cognitive behavioural therapy to the most esteemed MBA course, there is no shortage of people telling you that your life is not complete without a carefully composed list scribbled or typed neatly onto the nearest digital or analogue device.
They are probably right – one well-known UK billionaire aviation magnate even goes as far as listing his top 10 tips for writing lists on his website. “Write down every single idea you have, no matter how big or small,” he says. It’s sound advice, I’m sure, but also a green light to create a completely new list of so-called ideas, such as “call Mum”, “laundry”, and perhaps – “write new list”.
The chronic list-maker will go to all manner of pointless lengths to achieve satisfaction. There is a niggling temptation to list items that either have a negligible practical impact on your workload or those that have already been completed anyway, just for the satisfaction of the big tick. Our list guru would no doubt be ticked off, and tell you you’re are only cheating yourself.
And we haven’t even broached the list of media available to help you compile all these items. Post-it notes, electronic or otherwise, offer solace for those who crave a pale yellow logic to their lives. And now a multitude of apps are there to support you should you find yourself feeling a little listless, too. Wunderlist will automatically map your ideas chronologically and geographically while with Evernote you can “remember everything” and search hundreds of notes in an instant.
Until we find a way to carry out rather than collect our every thought, ambition or day-to-day necessity in an instant, the list is here to stay. And with that sense of permanence in mind, for me there is no more fitting way to respect the virtues of the list than with pen and paper.
Scratched, scrawled or scribbled, a list – preferably mostly crossed out – should provide all of our lives with a reassuring bit of reason.
David Plaisant is a researcher for Monocle 24.