Why I Make a To-Do List That I Never Intend to Finish

published Jan 11, 2023
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image

I’m the kind of person who loves checking things off my to-do list. So I had my doubts when I took my career freelance and a friend told me not to expect to cross everything off my to-do list each day.

“Make the list, but only expect to cross three things off,” the seasoned freelancer said. “Maybe fewer.”

The next day I was feeling smug when I crossed five of six things off before lunch. And then… the toilet started leaking. I became an amateur plumber who made two trips to the hardware store to get everything watertight again. I definitely didn’t cross number six off the list that day.

That’s also when I fully embraced my friend’s rule and appreciated the wisdom in it. Now, my husband and I even apply it to home projects. Before we moved into our new house, we excitedly made a list of all the things we wanted to do:

But when we got the home inspector’s report, we had to scale back our wishes and add more urgent to-dos:

  • Stain the deck.
  • Cut back the overgrown plants.
  • Repair the uneven sidewalk.

Then, as we lived in our home, we noticed problems and had to add those to our list:

  • Clean the tile grout.
  • Fix the downspout so we don’t have a skating rink just inside the gate.
  • Remove the old concrete walkway we found inexplicably covered by now-dead sod.
  • Replace the broken main water shutoff because that’s a safety issue.

Each time we add something, we reprioritize the list. We factor in the amount of time a project will take and whether we have the skills and equipment necessary to complete the job ourselves.

For example, we could easily cut back the overgrown plants and clean the grout ourselves. But since my plumbing skills are amateur at best, we had to hire a pro to handle our most urgent concern, fixing the water main shutoff. A quick glance at our reprioritized list told us the new flooring was getting punted to next year.

So just as my friend told me, we haven’t finished everything. Luckily, my husband and I can still joke about how we thought we’d get the whole interior painted before we even moved in. Maybe 2023 will be our year.