Ask the Resourceress #4: Why do I add items to my to do list AFTER I’ve done them?

Dear Resourceress,

Am I the only weirdo who has to add items to my to do list, even when I’ve already completed them? Am I just obsessed with capitalist productivity? Why do I do this? 


Constantly Proving My Productivity

Dear Find What Works For You,

You definitely aren’t the only weirdo, as I do this too!

As someone who is working more and more outside of traditional 9-5 systems, I hold a constant question about where my work processes still draw from toxic nature of capitalism. I don’t want to be motivated by capitalism, but I also don’t want to throw out work styles just because they seem too capitalist. I tend to be considered a good worker within capitalism, many of these processes meet my access needs for how my brain and body work. 

To do lists are one of my favorite hacks for directing my attention, and I remember watching my mom scribble a list on the back of envelope before I received any formal job training. For me, my to do list serves multiple purposes:

  • A brain dump of tasks that are rattling around in my head
  • A space to organize tasks, by priority or good flow or sequence
  • A review of where my time went
  • An opportunity to create a batch of tasks that could be repeated more easily in the future, or even delegated

When I add a task after I’ve completed it, I’m often trying to keep a review of where my time went. Without the structure of a 9-5 job, capitalism constantly has me worried that I have just frittered away a day with puttering, texts, and social media scrolling. It’s a tension, as my creative brain benefits from the near aimlessness of that kind of puttering space. In Buddhist training, aimlessness is considered the Third Door of Liberation or awakening. I’ve experienced glimpses of this, when I’m struck with creative inspiration while washing the dishes. When I studied mathematics as an undergraduate, my teachers would tell stories about how their best way to solve complex math questions was to take a shower!

Even though I know to trust aimlessness as an approach, I can still totally panic when I transition from aimlessness to aim. When I approach with aim and direction, I’m filled with questions: What have I been doing? Where did my time go? Making a few notes at the end of this aimless period helps me make that transition with more ease. For anything that I might want to do again, especially if it is regularly in my daily or weekly flow, these notes can help me identify valuable tasks that I might intentionally insert in my day next time.

When I felt my panic recently during this transition from puttering to directed action, I felt my self-judgement arise — ‘I have things to do, why have I just been texting for an hour?’ And yet when I reviewed the texting, I could see that it was part friendly and part community organizing with some groups I’m part of. I wasn’t seeing that these contacts had more meaning than I was giving them credit for. And anyway, I am currently in a period where I want to be intentional about connecting with friends and building relationships. So this texting was meaningful to me, even if it had just been filled with silly memes!

What else would help me with that transition? Even just a pause or breath to appreciate the opportunity to connect seems like it would go a long way toward feeling what I want to be feeling in this connection. Adding this to my to do list is an opportunity to say, “I value this, and it’s okay that I’m valuing it even more than items that made my to do list from the start!” Seeing the value in my choices allows me to make an easier transition that it is okay to be complete with texting for now and move on to other things. 

So yes, fill up your to do list as you complete additional items when you find it helpful! If it’s a really big deal, you can even add another item to celebrate the completion of such a valued task! Let your celebration drive your enthusiasm for what’s still in front of you, less due to obligation and more due to desire. 

With love,

The Resourceress

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

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