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I’m currently experiencing a lot of changes in my life: leaving the military, selling my beloved house, moving to another state, and looking for new job.  Needless to say, life is hectic.  It feels like one big to-do list, and few of the tasks are real pleasures.

Even outside that kind of change, modern life seems obsessed with project management and getting things done.  Consider blogs such as Stepcase Lifehack and Simple Productivity.  Amazon offers scads of books on everything from getting organized to overcoming procrastination.

So when I got the following “letter turned guest post” from Everyday Bright reader and fellow Brazen Careerist Sadya Siddiqui, I knew I had to share it.  In my opinion, it’s nothing short of brilliant.

Dear Dr. Jen

Today I checked off an item on my to-do list. So what’s the big deal you’re wondering? You see, it’s been on my to-do list for 9 years. No, it wasn’t really a big goal. So how did it feel when I checked it off? It felt…well, I didn’t feel anything and that left me a bit perplexed. Wasn’t I supposed to feel elated, perhaps a sense of accomplishment at the fact I actually got rid of that nasty one-liner on my ever-increasing list of things I didn’t do? Did I become something, having accomplished that one action item, did it put into perspective the bigger goals of my life, did it teach me the lesson that I unnecessarily procrastinated something that could have been done years ago? All of these profound questions led to one answer: Nah.

What is the one thing that Gen-Y inherited from Baby Boomers, Gen X and the United Nations? To-do lists! Who invented them anyway & why has there been no upgraded version of it? Most of us are ingrained with the belief that it is only when you finish all the action items on that list you can call yourself productive. How many of us truly believe that we will, at some point, become wholly productive & excellent time managers? It’s like looking at fashion magazines and saying someday I’m going to look as thin as that model & wear clothes that stylish. The model is airbrushed; those clothes will probably be out of fashion by the time we save up the money for it. So really what are the odds of you & me accomplishing each action item and saying I no longer need to read all those self-help blogs on how to be productive?

A to-do list is a constant reminder you are lagging behind.  It’s like your mom telling you “why haven’t you picked up your clothes, you’re gonna be late for school again, no snacking before dinner,” which is why when we do not accomplish the items on our lists, we have a ‘nagging’ feeling. As a result we compromise our experiences–when we watch a movie instead of writing a blog post, we gets pangs of guilt throughout the movie. What’s worse is that we wanted to watch the movie to de-stress from that beast of a list.

Dr. Jen, life is short, so make a to-be-what-you-want-to-be list instead. Wake-up every day & make a list of the To-be and then a list of the To-do. You’ll see that the to-do list will be shorter this time. And if those action items aren’t making you into something, why are they on your list anyway? I compared my To-be list with my To-do list and only 2 items matched.  It made me sad. That list I make for “everyday” is keeping me away from all that I want to be.

It also made me realize Shakespeare really was the personal development guru of his time: every time I feel the need the check my horoscope on 5 different websites, I recall his words “the fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars but in ourselves that we are underlings.” So when he says “to be or not to be, that is the question,” I say: you’re damn right it is.

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40 Responses to Much Ado About To-Do Lists

    • On
    • June 22, 2010 at 9:19 pm
    • Aurian
    • Said...

    Fantastically done, Sadya. I’m so glad that you wrote this up. It really was one of your greatest posts on BC, and it needed to be shared. Good work!

    • Totally agree, Aurian! Thanks for coming over from Brazen to read Sadya’s full story.

        • On
        • June 25, 2010 at 9:22 am
        • Sadya
        • Said...

        Aurian , im glad u liked it & am superglad Dr. Jen liked it.

  1. great post, wonderfully done. I am always making lists, on post-its, in multiple calendars, on my hand, in my head…you make such an excellent point. I will definitely start working on focusing more on my To Be list rather than the mundane things that weigh down my dreams. Thanks!

      • On
      • June 25, 2010 at 9:36 am
      • Sadya
      • Said...

      Kristina , as long as ur lists are subtle reminders , and not ‘nagging’ weights pulling ur self-esteem down, u shud hang on to them.
      Thank you for the appreciation. im truly flattered.

  2. Uh, yeah, that is pretty good, Jen. Kudos, Sadya.

    I’m going to remember this: Do-be, do-be, do.


      • On
      • June 25, 2010 at 9:39 am
      • Sadya
      • Said...

      u noticed , u liked and u commented, what more cud i ask for. Jay , so glad u liked it and special thanks to Dr. Jen for giving me space on her blog.

      • Sadya- the pleasure was all mine. I hope “writer” or “blogger” is on that to-be list of yours. You’ve got talent!!

    • On
    • June 23, 2010 at 3:34 am
    • Sandrine
    • Said...

    This is excellent! A great send off for all these ‘get organised’ books.
    Although I have to admit, that despite feeling that they’re distinctly naff, and completely miss the point of being alive at times, I do like reading them occasionally. And I love making lists. Sometimes I feel making them really does help me prioritise what I want to do with my life. (Also I generally have no problem getting things on the list done, so it’s not a source of guilt).

    • Sandrine, I secretly love to do lists too. My personal trainer quickly figured this out and would put little boxes next to what she wanted me to do in between sessions. The lure of the box! LOL. But I still think to-be lists are better (and usually more fun). Good to see you here!

        • On
        • June 25, 2010 at 9:32 am
        • Sadya
        • Said...

        keep the lists, all of ‘em . the thing is that i see the blogosphere filled with posts abt time mgmt tips , how to maintain lists , how to be productive… and i’m actually irked by them. its like those diets + fashion magazines . im not really sure i can use any of those tips.
        My take on to-do lists is that it was probably invented for forgetful ppl , and then it just caught on. and now its like oh-my-god u ‘must’ a make list. ok i’ll make the list but what is the list making me? productive? really??
        this leads to be a bigger question – how to we define productivity? why shud someone else tells us that look its only when the list is complete that you are productive. productivity is a sense of control , mind over matter, its a process. its also individualistic. its like the ideal weight , for each of us its different. and rightly so.

  3. Great idea, a to do list can be intimidating and depressing whereas a to be list sounds inspiring:) Thanks for hosting Sadya’s post Jen, great to hang out with you ladies.

    • Ditto, Annabel. :)

        • On
        • June 25, 2010 at 9:47 am
        • Sadya
        • Said...

        Hey Annabel!
        Yes we must thank Dr. Jen for waking me up from my stupor and getting me to make some kind of written contribution.
        u know how i got the idea of this post? it was a Monday morning and i was making the dreadful ‘to-do’ and the top item was ‘finish action items of previous to-do’ list. i ended up berating myself for being so bad at time mgmt & so unproductive and lazy. and thats when it hit me- the list is the problem, not me.

    • On
    • June 23, 2010 at 7:52 am
    • nfk
    • Said...

    SadyaSid you have brought forth an original thought and on that I salute you! In my case though the to-be list is much longer than the average to-do list and thus i quit making lists long time ago.

    The Ready, Fire, Aim strategy seems to be working fine for a while now :D

    To do is to be – to be is to do – Scooby Doo where are you?

      • On
      • June 25, 2010 at 9:49 am
      • Sadya
      • Said...

      thank u NFK. altho ur not on the BC forum , i’m glad you cud relate to the post. thank u for all your support over the years.

  4. Pingback: my to-be list « Sarah's Issues Blog

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    • On
    • July 9, 2010 at 12:35 pm
    • Heike
    • Said...

    I’ll have to try the “To Be” list. What a great concept! Thanks.
    3-Point Products

    • Thanks, Heike. Let us know how it goes. I personally find the idea of the side-by-side lists to be very helpful in separating urgent from important. Sadya’s a genius!

  8. What do you want to do or who do you want to be. Good personal mission and vision work. Thanks! Well done. This is certainly share-able

    • Thanks, David! I share this idea with my friends in real life and find it resonates with them too. Happy to see you here!

    • On
    • July 12, 2010 at 10:34 am
    • sadya
    • Said...

    this post is still getting comments, wow! Dr. Jen thank you for the kind words. and I think you right , a to-be list separates the urgent stuff from the important ones.

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    • On
    • August 17, 2010 at 8:44 am
    • Michael Felberbaum
    • Said...

    I had to put up a link to my post since it was so on point. http://numespot.com/2010/03/whats-on-your-to-be-list/

    • Amazing! Great minds think alike. So what’s on your “to be” list?

    • On
    • September 5, 2010 at 1:10 am
    • DM Cook
    • Said...

    I like this idea too, but i admit that I’m a little perplexed. What exactly goes on a “to-be list”, anyway? Is it about thinking where you want your life to go, that sort of thing?

    I do find I get a big kick out of crossing things off a todo list, but that it definitely needs a companion “goals/dreams” list. Is that essentially what you’re saying? Cause if it is, then man, i still have a massive todo list :)

    First visit to the site, though, and i like it! Keep it up!!

    • DM- You’ve got it exactly right. Figure out where you want to go with your life, and put that on your “to be” list. Now create a “to do” list that helps you advance towards your “to be” list. You’ll find the kinds of entries on your “to do” list change drastically when you do that! What great about this suggestion is that for people like us who love checking things off a to-do list, you get that daily satisfaction while still making progress on things that really matter. If you only keep a “to do” list, it’s easy to fill it up with the minutae of life, stuff that needs to be done but isn’t really important. This technique keeps a better balance.

      Thanks so much for the visit and comment–hope to see you around again!

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    • On
    • December 3, 2010 at 3:27 pm
    • Daria
    • Said...

    I love it! Great post Sadya. I love the idea of a To-Be list too. Jen mentioned it to me in a comment on a post I wrote about my out of control To-Do list.

    I haven’t put it together yet, but putting a To-Be list together is on my To-Do list… :D (yes, that was intentional).

    Thanks again for the great advice!


    • Isn’t Sadya a gem? This is absolutely one of my favorite posts. I still read it from time to time to keep my priorities straight.

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  15. Mind ….. BLOWN!

    I always hated todo lists! To Be lists gives it a whole new perspective!

    • So happy to hear that, Aly. Would love to hear what you’d like to be!

      • Added “Make a To-Be list” on my “To-Do list”. Once I get around to it will definitely share with you! :)