My Love/Hate Relationship With To-Do Lists

It’s probably impossible to count how many times we assign tasks to our to-do lists, or how many times we cross them off. While we complete the list at times, it never actually disappears. Even if it’s not written or typed out, it exists in you by default. There is always something to do, right? That might not be the most encouraging thing you’ve heard of late, that there’s always something to do. That’s not necessarily a bad thing!

I recently had a discussion in class that was centered on work and its meanings. My professor gave the example of washing a car. One would first take a look at the car, evaluating what needed to be done to clean it. Then you dive right on into the task at hand, removing that awful “Wash me” tag someone wrote using the dirt collected on your back windshield. The professor noted that you could lose yourself in the process, becoming so diligent within it that you drift off into thought. You finish washing and drying. You feel a sense of completion. Sure, your car will get dirty again. It’s clean now, and you’re proud of that. It means something to you.

As the discussion continued, one question circulated in my mind: What motivates us to complete tasks? Personally, I’ve come to embrace the infamous to-do list. For starters, it helps me remember what I need to do and when it needs to get done. It also helps me gauge my own progress, one check (or more) at a time.

Embracing the to-do list still did not help answer the question I had about motivation to complete tasks. After some thought, I decided to evaluate what my own list consisted of. School assignments were front and center, with my school job factored in. Good ol’ home-related errands came after that. Projects with the Marist Young Adult program followed. Finally, reminders to check in with friends and family were also on the list. This was a basic yet full list at best.

Things sort of clicked for me as I perused the list I had made myself. The motivation for completing tasks could be found when I looked at the bigger picture. Why do these tasks matter to me? What is the result of any of this? It was about the meaning behind the tasks, not just completing them. School assignments are highly important to me. Being a college student is the focus of a lot of my time, and being good at it means meeting deadlines with quality work. Working not only gets me paid, but it helps me gain experience in different fields. Errands at home not only make me an active part of the household, but they make it easier for me to ask my parents to go away on spring break! Projects with the Marist Young Adult program help me further a faith-based outreach to college students that I’m involved in. Last but not least, checking in with friends and family is something that helps me stay connected to people I care about. It was interesting to see that my list covered my wants and needs as a person (educational goals, economic support, my beliefs, socialization).

The motivations behind completing tasks often times lie in the meanings we attribute to these tasks. There is a purpose beyond the task at hand. You do what you do as a part of something greater. Your to-do list may reflect you in different ways. That being said, we all have some unpleasant additions to the list. These are simply things we wish we didn’t have to do or things we avoid at all costs. Think back to washing the car… when you know it will get dirty again. That could probably represent bumps in the road, unpleasantness, or the monotony of some tasks.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that each and every thing on your list has some deep, overarching meaning. The lists in our lives can grow cumbersome at a moment’s notice. While our routines and lives can be predictable, they are also very fluid. They change with us. Take a look at your own to do list… it might tell you something about yourself and your motivations. If it doesn’t, maybe you’ll want it to. Who knows? I have no idea why you do what you do, but you did it! TC mark

featured image – Shutterstock

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