The Checklist

When did we all start to live by checklist?

Why is this now our accepted method to score potential mates, feel satisfied with our days, and validate our lives by flipping through agendas and calendars – paper and electronic?

  • I had a mental list of critical tasks for this week of so-called break.
  • I had a written list of the highest priority, along with the most irritating.
  • For two days I checked nothing off, and felt as though I was a slacker.

On the third day, I added an item for exactly what I had been doing for the preceding two days – so I could check it off!

Do you find yourself expanding a “to do” list just for the pleasure of checking something off as done? Please don’t tell me I’m the only one who does this…


What was the item I added?

It was a two-part reminder. Seemingly simple. And extremely important. It is the one thing that I have been consistently doing these past four days. Every day. And I’m proud of that. And it is this:

Eat healthy, including meat and fruit. Walk 10 minutes if possible.

As simple as that sounds, it’s a big deal. Like many parents, when life gets crazy, it’s kids first, and everything else after. For me, that’s included necessary attention to my health, but I’m trying to fix that. As for those few minutes of walking? Essential – to build back stamina after many months of being under the weather. So, eat healthy and walk 10 minutes? Huge.

The other items? From the sublime, to the ridiculous, of course, including:

  • Finish taxes (not sublime)
  • Paint two walls in the Toxic Zone (my son’s room)
  • Pay bills (always a two-hankie affair)
  • Exchange printer cartridges for correct size (irritating)
  • Do dishes (disgusting)
  • Finish time-sensitive research for my son (irritating)
  • Clean my closet (ridiculous)
  • Clean everything (ridiculous)
  • Try (again) to deal with wrong cable boxes (irritating)

You get the gist. Not only is there nothing sublime on that list, but some items are as simple as a phone call (or eight), while others involve physical labor which may not be possible, or an insistence on focus, even if the task is tedious and long (taxes).

Why do we need checklists?

It’s a no-brainer that we’re all carrying a larger load than we ever anticipated, or that our parents carried before us. Contemporary life is a complex and multidimensional schematic, a constantly changing diagram that seems like one giant interdependent, spaghetti mess.

Checklists are a safety net, to help us stay organized. To miraculously get “too much” done. Or at least, to imagine that it’s possible.

Yet what does that say that I required an item to remind myself to eat meat and fruits, because I’m always so busy I don’t take care of my own nutritional needs? Meat for the critical iron and B12, fruits for their vitamins?

Checklists as a replacement for spontaneity?

As for the little things that fall through the cracks? They’re always there, and unfortunately, they sometimes snowball, and as they accumulate, the tumbling along of bits and pieces of what is left undone eventually gains the momentum to knock you over. Maybe it’s five days of dirty dishes, or three months of kid-hidden trash under the bed. Eventually, it all needs to be dealt with. Avoidance and procrastination have their place, but as a lifestyle? The antithesis of organization.

So the checklist – for the little things – provides a small measure of assistance and comfort that everything won’t reach the danger zone.

But here’s what concerns me. We seek love by checklist, jobs by checklist, employees by checklist – never taking the time to really get to know who or what we are dealing with. We run through vacations by checklist, ticking off the destinations we’ve fit into a jammed schedule. Mona Lisa at the Louvre? Check. The Eiffel Tower, despite the line? Check. Two days in Rome, two days in Florence, two days in Venice? Check.

We’ve extended and internalized this behavior, and we’ve gotten carried away. We take so much satisfaction out of “checking it off the list” (bucket list?) – I wonder if we’re really living the activity itself. Are we losing the fullness of our experiences and accomplishments? Our spontaneity?

Checklist organizing

I need my checklists as much as the next guy.

To document critical tasks so they get done. To prioritize. To capture the items that annoy me – things like painting the walls in my son’s room – my son, the artist, who should have painted those walls himself many months ago. If that particular task stays on the list, I probably won’t do it, but I’ll remember to nag him until he does. And dammit, even if it’s some odd adolescent rebellion, I’m going to see those walls painted eventually, and that room, less of an eyesore.

There’s no question that a checklist, an electronic organizer, a planner, an agenda — all are helpful — to a point.

But haven’t we gone overboard?