How many people make a daily to-do list? And breaking down that question, when we say "people," do we mean Americans? Residents of first-world countries? Do Nepalese water-carriers make to-do lists? I sometimes wonder about things like that. People for whom writing and reading are not part and parcel of ordinary life -- how do they organize their time? I'm inclined to think that in many cases, there are few "optional" activities. You either get up and carry the water, or you die. No need for "reminders." That's something to think about.
I suppose that people for whom life is slightly more complicated but does not include literacy, the lists are kept in one's head. Or social structures make it possible to check in with the family or the village so that everyone is coordinated and everyone's role is clear. People for whom writing things down is second nature, is this really an advantage? Does the ability to make lists encourage mental laziness? It's a matter of concern that for many societies, the old story-keepers are dying, and none of the history that they remember is being written down. When they're gone, it's gone. And we know what happens to civilizations that lose track of their history. For too many Americans, despite access to books and archives, it's happening anyway. ...But no, today is not for political musings.
From time to time, I've run across books and websites that encourage the following exercises:
A. List 100 random facts about yourself. This is one of the earliest memes I encountered on Facebook. It was fun, and challenging. The objective was to list things that make you different from other people. Many of us think we're the first, or only, ones to do a particular thing, or to approach it the way we do. But remember that old saying: There is nothing new under the sun. Making a list like this serves the purpose of observing what we do. That's better than going through life like a robot.
B. List 50 things you really like about yourself. I did this recently, and noticed that whereas many people would list things they've accomplished, my stash of those is pretty thin, so I ended up with mostly character traits and "soft" skills. Too many were acquired relatively recently...but I guess it's better to have acquired them a little late than never. It took hours to compile that list.
C. List 25, or 50, or 100 things that you love. That can be people you know, or foods, or songs, places or books. The purpose of this one is to have something to refer back to when you're feeling down in the dumps and defeated. The trick is to remember that you compiled it in the first place, and where you put it!
D. Make a Wish List. I'm currently doing this in my Bullet Journal. But the problem is, there's also a project/task list in there, and a "Someday/Maybe" list. And from time to time, I have a lot of trouble deciding which of those lists something belongs in. If you mean to do something this week, but it is still hanging out there undone when a month has gone by, is it really a wish, or a "someday/maybe" pipe dream? It is true, though, that when you commit these ideas to paper, you stand a much better chance of eventually doing them. You get tired of being nagged... by yourself.
E. Then there's the ever-popular Bucket List, popularized by the Morgan Freeman movie. It has nothing to do with a bucket that you might carry things in -- it refers to the "kicking the bucket," or dying, and so this is a list of things you want to do before you die. Mine is interchangeable with the "Someday/Maybe," and most of the things on it are there simply because they're WAY out of my price range.
F. Less popular are "negative" lists -- things you don't like about yourself, times you failed, things you tried but couldn't accomplish, people who made you miserable. I think most of us carry that stuff around with us regardless. We don't need reminders. But a list like this can help if we are seeking to make positive changes. If an unpleasant person is no longer in our life, we can celebrate, and then think about the good folks that have supported us and taught us valuable lessons.
We can learn and be inspired by reading the lists other people make.
We can also entertain ourselves by reviewing the lists we made years before.
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Graphic by Saket Jojodia