Why I’m Going “List-less” in 2013

My lists before had lists.My New Year’s resolution flies in the face of the most conventional wisdom, which heralds the importance of writing down tasks and being organized.

I resolve to be less organized, less aware of what needs to be done and less productive. And in doing so, I expect to be more so.

Let me explain.

I’m a list maker. I have lists for everything: groceries, work assignments, house projects, errands, Christmas shopping, vacation packing. Honestly, you name it, and I’ve put a number beside it and, hopefully, a line through it.

My lists order my days, remind me of tasks and bear witness to my capabilities.

Or do they?

This is how I started 2013.A Harvard Business Review blog from 2012 titled, “The Magic of Doing One Thing at a Time,” stated that: “... if you’re always doing something, you’re relentlessly burning down your available reservoir of energy over the course of every day, so you have less available with every passing hour.”


As soon as I read those words, I thought of my to-do lists and what they really bring into my life.

My lists had been dictating my days, taunting me of things unaccomplished and revealing my inability to achieve.

The value of my days was being measured by the number of lines I scratched on a piece of paper. My value was being measured by the number of items that needed me, that needed my attention. And the resentment I felt toward others for not helping me was measured in the number of to-dos that became I-dids.

I have been deceived.

By getting my tasks onto paper, I thought I was creating brain space for things of more importance. Instead, the lists were constantly beckoning me. The joy of checkmarks was replacing the joy of the experience. Buying Christmas presents should be more fun than buying Christmas presents.

So in 2013, I’m resolving to manage without the assistance of a list. I resolve to trust that each day I will know what needs doing for that day. That I will feel the greater satisfaction of a day well spent doing what truly matters.

Final check.

Nicole van Esselstyn will hang on to just one list, her current work projects. She does want to stay employed.