The List

August 25, 2010
Shrink Rap

Are to-do lists good or bad for our mental health?

Originally posted to Shrink Rap.

I have lists for everything: grocery shopping, personal errands, work-from-home assignments, travel (all types---climbing vacations, hiking, biking, beach and conference), even hobby activities. I know I'm not alone---Dinah has a mental "to do" list, and even keeps them for her friends (ask me how I know!).

The advantage of listkeeping is that you are less likely to forget something, which means that you avoid embarrassment and people getting annoyed with you. A good list keeps anxiety at bay when you're swamped with responsibilities and keeps you focussed on the next task at hand instead of running around like a scattered person. You can work more efficiently when you can organize errands according to location or time of day.

There are a few bad things too: a certain amount of anxiety is necessary to actually get started on a task. With a list, you're temped to think, "I've got that covered---it's on the list," but then you never actually do it. When the list gets too short (that actually does happen sometimes! I get caught up.) then the list disappears and duties get lost.

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