Monday, August 3, 2009

To Do Lists vs. Checklists

Are To-Do Lists different than Checklists? While it might seem a bit nuanced, the distinction is a "To-Do" list is future action oriented while a checklist may or may not be. I can have a checklist for the grocery store, for work, for travel or I can have a checklist of what I have already accomplished in life or a checklist of quality traits that I want in products or in someone I'd like to hire. "To Do" suggests that whatever is on your list is something you have yet "to do" which sometimes takes the form of a schedule or a list of tasks.

In 2007, Neal Conan from NPR conducted an interview with Sasha Cagen, the author of To Do List: From Buying Milk to Finding a Soul Mate, What Our Lists Reveal About Us. Two things struck me from the interview - 1. how many people still keep their lists on paper even though there is a plethora of technology to help us keep our notes organized and 2. why 30 seems to be the age where many people feel like you need to have achieved a certain level of success to "justify your existence." Made my wonder what would be on my list? When I was straight out of college, I did make a list of what I wanted to do before I die and "milk a cow" was on that list - perhaps I was running out of ideas.

Sasha's blog now turned full website solicited new handwritten to-do lists. Why handwritten? Because perhaps more important than the list itself is how your organize your thoughts, your handwriting, and how you express yourself through colors, images, etc. I selected a random page (below) from my personal notebook. Though black and white, the ink was actually purple with "actual" activities in red. Some these entries are one word triggers. Looking back, I'm amazed at how life was so much "busier" before my son was born.


  1. Very interesting entry. Since I think i rarely use either "list", I'm probably more inclined to have a very limited to-do list with just one or two things that i think can realistically be done in the time period designated for the to-do list.

    Actually that may be a good do you set "due dates" for to-do or checklists? What if they keep growing and how do you consolidate? I think in the case of these events it's best to be "digital" since it's a simple copy and paste.

  2. So it sounds like your limited list is a short term list. Mine mixes up long and short term items. I rarely set a hard due date so sometimes these consolidated lists do grow quite large. If they're still on after a year, then I re-evaluate whether I need to just deprecate it or need to reframe it so it could be something that can be accomplished in a more timely manner.

  3. Your scanned list is seriously scary. I don't think I've ever made a list like that in my life.

    re: due dates, I'm trying out Remember the Milk and set the due dates based on when they absolutely must be done but have the view set on all so I see everything at one go.