The Art of a Good To-Do List

I'm a fan of the to-do list.  A big fan.  Partly I like making lists because they give me something to do during the day that is about work but not actually work, if you see what I mean.  I can just about get away with making endless lists of shit-to-get-done in the office because, in theory, once I've made my lists, I'll start actually doing the shit.  (In. Theory.) But also I like the poetry of a to-do list.  Funny titles, clever bullet points, drawings, plans, a record of a day (a week, a month).  The simple (buy new toothbrush) to the huge (finish manuscript).  I don't make distinctions between the importance of different tasks; I might well buy a new toothbrush this evening, but equally I might well decide that my teeth can stay covered in plaque for the sake of writing another chapter.

My lists are not organized; no, this would be missing the point.  The point of a good to-do list is not really to create order.  The point of a good to-do list is to give thoughts some space.  A good to-do list is like the Pensieve in Harry Potter (yes, really)--it's like pulling thoughts out of your head, putting them somewhere safe, where they won't bother you and you won't bother them, and then being able to revisit them whenever you want.

A good to-do list cannot be made to look neat or tidy.  At any moment you might need to add to it or subtract from it.  You might need to write, "make new to-do list" on it because it's so crowded; but you won't make that new to-do list, not immediately.  You'll know when it's time, when your priorities have shifted, when the clutter outweighs the usefulness of the list.  Then you'll start again.