List-Free Living – Is it Possible?


The other week I blogged about wanting to try a “no-list” approach to getting things done, and let me tell you, that was the PERFECT week to be list free. Both my girls caught colds and I spent countless hours trying to keep Leolani’s nose clear. Because Leo’s so young, I took her to the doctor who ordered blood drawn and x-rays and follow up appointments, all of which I wasn’t planning. I was so worn out from night after night of barely any sleep and shuttling back and forth to the doctor (I should’ve just camped there) that my list would’ve gone untouched if I had one.

After thinking about this for several days, I wondered why I didn’t need a list last week, and came to the conclusion that it was because I was so laser focused on what needed to be done at the moment, that a list became irrelevant. The things I needed to get done got done, and everything else didn’t matter. My priorities were my daughters’ well being and making sure the house was livable and that we were eating. That was it. I was also very aware of my limited energy so I couldn’t do everything. I had to pick and choose.

I suppose it’s relatively easy when you’re in survival mode to live list-free, but what about the rest of the time? Is it possible to be so clear about our priorities that we can instantly know what we must do in every moment of every day? If it is possible, it requires some SERIOUS editing. I think the way most of our lives are, we need lists to remember everything we’re juggling.

I still need lists, and will probably always need lists. They help me remember stuff – grocery lists, packing lists, lists on days I have a crazy amount of errands to run, wish lists, etc. But I want lists to enhance my life – to help me remember that video game my husband mentioned he wants for his birthday, or that we need balloons and candles for the birthday party, or to read that book my girlfriend told me about, not crack a whip over my head. I think that’s what we all want.

I for one will continue to use lists as a general guideline. Right now I have a working grocery list, a list of what needs to be done in my daughters’ room in order for it to be “complete,” lists of blog ideas, business plans, books to read, organizational projects and a wish list. I add to them whenever I feel the need, and visit these every week or so to either plan to take action or cross things off that have been sitting incomplete for too long. Things I plan to do soon get sent to “Today” so I’ll be more aware of it, but that doesn’t mean it needs to get done right away, just sooner than the things that aren’t in “Today.” Having these gentle reminders keeps me moving in the right direction but honors my need to be flexible for my kids. I think this is a good set up for now – subject to change.

What do you think? Is it possible to edit our lives so far down that we can throw our lists away? Or will you always keep a pad and paper (virtual or otherwise) nearby?


8 comments to List-Free Living – Is it Possible?

  • I love my lists. I love to draw lines over projects and “musts” I have done. Reading Your blogtext gave me a new perspective though. Living without list for a period? Hm, a new thing to try! Thank You for inspiration for new thoughts. To let life just happen…. Ops, is that possible? I don’t know but I will certainly try for a period. It will be a big interesting challenge.

  • Oooh, this made me think!

    I love lists too, and I often say they free my mind from having to remember everything. But you bring up a really interesting point about needing lists because of everything we are juggling. The idea of not needing them is enticing.

    • Joelle

      That’s what I’ve always thought too! But simply doing what’s right in front of me, or what I feel compelled to do is also freeing. I doubt complete list-free living is the way to go. It’s an extreme, and for many of us it’s just not plausible, but I do think that a balance between a list-dominated life and following your inner voice is.

      Thanks for stopping by Britt!

  • Interesting. I don’t know if it’s a gender thing or not. My wife is a meticulous planner, and always has several lists going. Lists often have an oppressive effect on me — I’ve tried them — and every once in awhile I use one. Mostly, I find that I get more and more down on myself, and after awhile of looking at lists that never seem to get checked off quickly enough, the negative self talk starts.

    I’m not sure how I get things done without lists, but somehow I function. You obviously find them somewhat comforting and useful. Maybe I should try again. Now I’m wondering…

    • Joelle

      Could be a gender thing…I tend to overplan with lists in lists and then blow it. My problem is that I spend too much time “organizing” the stuff I have to do and not doing it. I’m always in search of that perfect “productivity system.” Ugh. My husband on the other hand usually keeps one running list on a legal pad and enjoys checking things off. I’d say he’s a really productive guy. I think as long as I stick to general lists that don’t really have due dates but are meant to help me remember things, I’m pretty good, but the minute I start micro-managing my day I’m setting myself up for disaster.

      For a while I did a short daily list of 3-4 items I wanted to accomplish, but nowadays even that is hard so I go easy on myself and do what I can when I can.

  • I have been really struggling with the idea of to-do lists for most of this year and I’ve been experimenting. I tried going with out a list for almost a month and it just made me feel scattered and forgetful. But I have pared down what I keep as a list as something I can actually do in a day and have let go of a lot of the self-judgment about what it means when I don’t finish every item! I find I’m a lot happier when I don’t try to remember all the things I need to do or buy, because they just are all jangling around in my head. I want that attention available to just be doing what I’m doing, not thinking about what I need to do later.

    Interestingly, my partner is a complete no-list guy, living on the philosophy that if it is important he’ll remember it. Recently his work life has been a bit crazy and he’s resorted to keeping a to-do list, but he’s really working hard on reducing the crazy, rather than embracing the need for the list.

    • Joelle

      Interesting…Andy seems to live fairly list-free and his wife likes lists, so maybe his theory in his comment about a gender split has some validity to it. I wonder if it has to do with that idea that men have a one-track mind whereas women are constantly thinking about a bunch of things. I know I have a hard time turning my brain off, and getting things out of my head and onto a list does help…

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