Your To-Do list is going to KILL YOU!

If you have an ever-expanding to-do list -  then you're failing to
understand your mortality. That's right, your cherished, life-affirming
task list is ultimately a pathway to your own death!

Let me explain…

Years ago, my good friend Rich Gibson and I were thinking about design principles for software that reflects who you are, what he called an "Internet of Values"
– in essence, applications and services that allowed you to articulate
your values (not your tastes) and helped you stay true to them using
intelligent feedback loop; a to-do list is at heart an articulation of
our life's goals – whether immediate or long-range.

Here's how Rich explains it

"When you put a thing on your to-do list, you are
making a commitment to do it," he says to me. "Meaning you aren't going
to do some other things." He pauses. "So you have to choose between
those things. Now, why do you have to choose?"

I think about this for a second. "Because your time is limited?" I venture hopefully.


Rich goes on to suggest that…

"one's to-do list, in whatever form, is ultimately a skull on the desk, a memento mori, a reminder that our time here really is limited and we ought to make the most of it, in as much as the list is also meant to be a tool for helping one actually do so"

The reasoning may be morbid, but it's certainly thought provoking.
Indeed, just last month, celebrated Italian author Umberto Eco debuted
a new exhibition about the place 'lists' hold in our culture and noted
in an interview with Der Spiegel that…

"…how, as a human being, does one face infinity? through lists, through catalogs, through collections.."

Eco suggests that lists and collections ultimately embody the ways
in which we think about death and are intrinsic to our culture. Rich is
however more pragmatic and goes on to suggest a 'Someday' or 'Maybe'
list for lingering tasks and hazier goals which should perhaps never be
part of to-do lists anyway.

Both Rich and Eco offer fascinating and thought provoking
perspectives on otherwise innocuous cultural artifacts. Indeed,
Twitter's recent launch of its Lists feature hews close to Eco's notion of cultural curation – lists as 'playlists of people'.

I'd like to think that future to-do list application could sense and
interpret my goals, subtly helping me to differentiate between Submit Knight Foundation proposal and Visit Tokyo as 'to-do' and 'someday' tasks….could software that sensed or guessed at our values, ultimately help us rediscover them?

Read more at We Like Lists Because We Don't Want to Die and The Skull On Your Desk.


  1. I love the idea of future-lists, or dream-lists… but things tend to say on these lists until you DO something/anything about them.

    So maybe something to tease out the next step, or maybe two needed to “visit Tokyo” and that feeds from the dream list onto the real to-do list, ideally dated. So you’d always be moving your dreams closer to reality, and those dreams wouldn’t get forgotten and swamped by the “get breads/ call Bert” things.

    Actually, what if failure to move at least ONE to-do item from your future-list to your real to-do list means that you have to delete that dream. That might save you a lot of fanciful heartache.

  2. I think constraint is the key… knowing you’re finite in time and getting you to commit some of that time to a particular dream. Knowing you can only do so much, allows you to put your energies where you think you’ll gain the most and also find acceptance in parking other dreams.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.