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Escaping the Guilt of the Never-Ending ToDo List

mary_grace profile image Mary Thengvall twitter logo github logo ・1 min read

Why is it that regardless of what I accomplished yesterday (a LOT! πŸŽ‰) all I can focus on is the list of things I still need to do? For some reason, it's far easier for my brain to get trapped in the mire of "my to do list is too long and I can't keep up" rather than celebrating the progress and looking forward w/excitement. Any suggestions from those who have been here?

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I break my tasks, in small steps, as much as I can. so I can keep going Sometimes we tend to set unreachable giant goals, and they need to start small and feasible.

Try to identify all the possible steps, and take a look to notice if perfectionism is present. Perfectionism is the key to procrastinate, and to give up to do list. Kill it!


small steps often make all the difference for me! if it's a quick 20m task, I can do it... no problem! something that looks like it will take all day? no way.


I never like todo lists and I move through life just fine. Ok, apart from shopping. I hate going shopping so much that I list is my "get-in-get-out" plan.

Try using "done lists". Instead of keeping track of what you haven't done yet, try keeping track of what you have done. Not just to make yourself feel better, but also to make it clear whether you actually need to do the other things!

Again, let's take shopping as an example, you come home and you thing "dam I forgot X" what do you do? Most likely you think "Oh it's fine, I can still make diner without x". Bum!


interesting. I like that idea, but I'd be worried that I'd either forget about things that need to get done or miss out on opportunities. then again, maybe that's part of my problem? ;-p how to do keep track of what you need to get accomplished from a personal & professional standpoint?


I find there's not that much to keep track of :)

From the title of your post it sounds like you miss out on opportunities no matter what if the list is never-ending. The "done list" is actually something I have read in few self-help books, where people have stopped keeping track of what's not done and instead made a list of what they have done, then the undone things just appear.

I like writing long form. I never write "Today I have to get this done", but regardless by the time I finish writing (a diary like thing: an highbrid of morning-pages and a diary) I'm clear what needs to be done.

Though to be honest there isn't that much that I need to do, so maybe you really need the list. But at least think about the well-tried-and-proven (not by me) of incorporating done lists, it might help you with "escaping the guilt"


Ha. I often feel like this about my notes on Google Keep, I add stuff all the time but don't remove things that often and sometimes feel a little bad about that.

As for suggestions a couple of things come to mind...

1) Try to feel happy there are still things on the to do list; in work sense this means you have work on so are unlikely to run out of things to do and get bored, or are possibly not needed by your company any more because there is no work.

2) Move the "done" things to a done list rather than deleting them. If you lists are electronic such as in a Kanban or other ticket management system this can often be quite easy.

I recently felt quite happy when looking at all the tickets we had completed for a project even though there were still a number of todo tickets left over for the future.

If your lists are more for your personal life, surely at some point the things in the done list will outweigh the number of things in the to do list. You can reflect on the done things over the past year or however long and celebrate the progress.


I really like the idea of having a universal "done" list. Right now I have them segmented into sections, and more often than not, the things that I'm accomplishing aren't actually on the list at all! But looking at the complete list of what I've done this day/week/month could be a nice way of reminding myself that even if it feels like I'm moving too slowly, I'm making a lot of progress.


This is a metaphor for life in general, right?

I stopped making 'general' to-do lists and now do things in a sorta 'Getting Things Done' (GTD) kinda way. I say sorta because I never really finished the GTD book.. that's still on my to-do list.

Anyhow, I make daily lists, weekly lists and long-term lists. This prioritizes what you really want and can do right now. When I make a list for a new day or a new week, I reevaluate all the unfinished things on my current list and I might even throw something off.


I think it's the "throwing something off" that catches me up :) I always feel like I have too many options and not enough time, so the thought of putting something to the side is difficult. I think the hardest thing is figuring out what to prioritize and how to make it all work toward the end goals. I suppose that's one way to throw things off... if it doesn't contribute toward the end goals, why is it on the list to begin with?


I am also constantly like this! What tends to help me is that while I try to make a lot of my work constructive towards a larger goal (I want to make an OS at some point down the road so some of my side projects work towards that) I try to keep in mind that even if what I do for a day has nothing to do with some larger goal, I'm gaining experience and keeping myself practiced. Hope this helps :D


that definitely makes sense! having side projects that all work toward the same goal(s) is smart, because then you're always making progress.

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Mary Thengvall profile image
I am a connector of people at heart, personally and professionally. I love digging into the strategy of how to build and foster developer communities, and have been doing so for 10+ years.