The goal isn’t to make it through a list. The goal is to continually develop oneself. A list is a tool you might decide to use in the process.

I think we inherently know this. Those who lose track of their system, letting it decay, often do so with this idea in mind.

To illustrate, you may come home from a long day having only gotten to a third of the tasks on a today list. Some of the remaining tasks are things for work, some are for home, and others besides. You’re tired and already have an idea of what needs to be done. There’s some milk to buy, some clothes to get started in the laundry, and a show you’re interested in watching. Messing with the list to tell you what you already know seems like putting the cart before the horse.

Sometimes it is. Sometimes it isn’t. Not a profound statement, but there it is. Unfortunately, the longer we let it decay, the more out of whack it becomes.

In truth, your system will be out of touch with reality the moment you leave it. When you return, it will of course be out of sorts. You might then either berate yourself for not keeping up with the system or reason that there is no use for it in the first place. Things still can slip through the cracks, but you “just need something, I don’t know what, but not a list.”

The trick is to know that we don’t turn to our systems to tell us what to do. When we first approach our system, it will not perfectly tell us what it is we want to do. Instead, we tell it to tell us what we want to do.

This may seem odd. What is the point of telling ourselves what to do through some list or complex arrangement of lists?

Going through the habit, at least daily, is a practice of reflecting upon ourselves, our desires, our worries, and the very real limits of time and attention. I suggest daily, but the more accurate measure is as regularly as we need to feel it to be trustworthy to reasonably remind is of:

  • What we want,
  • When we want, and
  • Without distraction.

There is no need to work on a system exhaustively, writing a task for every component of every day. We can create tasks as measured by confidence, writing only what’s felt to be a reasonable next action for the things on our mind.