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A List For Your List

I'm only able to keep track of my life with lists.

Shopping, general to-do, coworkers to follow up with, books to read. I've got a list for all of them; most live in Notion. I won't spend time talking about the benefits of listing out your tasks, because, well: lists have been around forever. You use them, in one way or another, and getting ideas out of your head and onto a piece of paper (or software) lessens stress and mental load.

My current Kanban board in Notion. Emojis separate work, personal, and school tasks. The Doing column has items I'm currently tackling; To-Do has items that need to be started soon; and Backlog has deprioritized or blocked items.

It's especially helpful for days when I'm in back to back meetings, or when someone asks if I have the capacity to take on something new. I'm a visual person, so being able to physically check what I have on my plate is helpful. It also helps manage the challenges of context switching, a common challenge for UX Writers.

But I think there's a danger in lists, too. The obvious one is that they can be limiting: If I only do what's written down, I could be missing out on other areas of improvement. Or, I could be ticking off items one after another without pausing to consider the bigger picture. This can usually solved by setting focus time, not only to focus on the tasks but to play around with the product, read through discussions, and create a quiet space for brainstorming.

For me, the bigger danger posed by lists is that their influence spreads like a fungus. I want to make a list for everything, like the books I want to read or the things I need to pick up from the grocery store. But then I think: Oh, I haven't watched the new season of Ted Lasso. And I haven't set aside time for personal writing. I also want to work out, and there's that coffee shop downtown I want to try.

These things aren't actually tasks; they're just hobbies or stuff I want to try. But lately I've noticed that I tend to treat them like tasks: instead of being grateful that I can sit down with a glass of wine and watch that movie I've been wanting to see, I'm approaching it as something to get done so it can be crossed off the list. And that's kind of a depressing way to live life.

I'm trying to practice the difference between lists and notes. Lists are for tasks, for things that have to be completed as part of work or just functioning as an adult. Notes, meanwhile, only exist as a tactic against forgetting. I can make a note in my phone with the address of the coffee shop I want to visit, but I shouldn't add it as a to-do item. That just takes away the joy.

I've also started to be careful with where I keep my lists. I used to have a widget saved to my phone's home screen, and Notion as my homepage, but this forced me to always be in productivity mode, even when I didn't have to be. Now, I have those apps hidden and pulled up only when I need them. (Information architecture is fun, yeah?)

All this to say: productivity is great, and often the goal. Lists can facilitate that, but over-engineering the process is just as harmful as under-planning. Find the balance.


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