I love writing to-do lists. They’re great! Properly prioritized it helps you organize your work for maximum efficiency by keeping you working on the right tasks in the right order. They are also great for transparency. Anyone wants to know what you’re doing – just show them the list. What you’ve done, what you’re currently working on and the plan for the rest of the day are right there.
Yup, nothing like writing a good to-do list.
Following a to-do list … well, that doesn’t always work. It all starts with the right intentions, but once you start working things fall apart.
General Eisenhower is often quoted as saying, “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”
Likely he didn’t say it exactly like that, but that’s the common attribution. Mostly likely what he really said was, “Peace-time plans are of no particular value, but peace-time planning is indispensable.” Which was in a letter he wrote in 1950.
Another version of the same quote is, “No plan survives contact with the enemy.” I did look that up and likely it should be attributed to the Prussian Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke in 1871. Well, he did say it in German, not English. Since he said that it’s been stolen and re-quoted by just about every general, admiral, politician, and business manager who has ever lived since then.
The fact that I am quoting Eisenhower and von Moltke is an example of planning gone awry. I’d planed this post to be about to-do lists and thought quoting Eisenhower would be illustrative. But as a bit of writing that is going out to the public, I thought it best to do a little fact checking. You came very close to getting a post about how people are misquoted rather than a nice post on to-do lists.
And that is exactly the problem with to-do lists. I don’t care how careful you are in writing them – you’ll always leave something important out, forget a prerequisite step or you’ll get through a curve ball at the last minute.
For example: Say you go out in the garden to plant a shrub you just bought. First you’ll want to get every thing you need to the job – shovel, compost, B1 starter, bone meal and the hose so you can water it well when done.
Once you go to where you where thinking of planting it, you won’t have your garden gloves. After you get your gloves you’ll notice that the nearby rose bush should be trimmed a bit so it doesn’t interfere with your digging.
When you get the first shovel full of dirt out of the hole you’ll realize that you can’t just dump the dirt on the lawn and decide to get the wheelbarrow to temporarily hold the dirt while you dig. Naturally the wheelbarrow will be full of bags of concrete for the fence project – item two on your to-do list.
You’ll just take out the bags and get back to planting. The bags can’t get wet, so you spend 20 minutes cleaning out a corner of the garage to store the bags.
Back to the planting site with the wheelbarrow, you start digging. Two shovel fulls in you’ll discover a big root and will need to go find a pickaxe which most likely will be difficult to get to because you just blocked up that part of the garage with bags of concrete. After removing the root you’ll find an irrigation pipe right smack in the middle of where the shrub is going.
The good news is that you can just move the hole slightly back and no one will notice. The bad news is that you swung the pickaxe a little too hard and the pipe is now leaking. Your two item to-do list, now gets an item “0” – “Repair broken pipe.”
This will require a trip to the plumbing supply place because you’ll find that you don’t have the right repair couplers. There will be a second trip to the store when you can’t find that can of PVC pipe cement that should right there on the shelf above the bags of cement and is nowhere to be found.
Then if the world is working the way it normally does, your wife will come out and say, “Good, you haven’t planted it. I think it would look nicer on the other side of the lawn.”
She will tell you that dinner is in half an hour and why don’t you just plant it tomorrow. You offer to make a nice gin and tonic for both of you. Later, she’ll suggest that two is enough …
The next day brings a fresh start and you review the to-do list. You’re able to cross out item 0 which means you get to start back at step one, planting the shrub. You’re also able to show your wife that you got something done the day before and have a full day’s work ahead.
So there you have it, the perfect use of a to-do list to plan your life.
Next time I’ll discuss the advantages and importance of a shopping list.