I hate lists. I particularly hate “to-do” lists. I make lists all the time. And I always have a to-do list near my desk.
Lists have been around for a long time. Leonardo da Vinci made lists of things and things to do. George Washington made lists. Fictional characters like Jay Gatsby made lists.
Lists must have some appeal. The horribly-named and just plain horrible online “content” known as the “listicle” seems to get lots of views. “10 Ways to _____” or “The 7 Best _____” or “The 5 Things You Need To Do This Weekend” seem to promise a fast way to better your life. Maybe it is part of the same movement that makes slide presentations full of short bulleted lists so popular. Here are all the answers in an easy-to-digest package.
I consider the writer and scholar Umberto Eco to be a wise man. He said that “The list is the origin of culture,” when he gave a Der Spiegel interview. He had just curated an exhibition on the history of the list at the Louvre.
That certainly elevates my “Things To Do This Week” notepad writing to a new level.
Eco can explain why we make lists, and I believe him. Leonardo’s lists certainly have taken on importance over the centuries. The lists of inventors and thinkers, such as Thomas Edison’s ambitious to-do list, give us another way of considering their creativity and the way their minds planned.
In the book, The Infinity of Lists: An Illustrated Essay. , Umberto Eco says that lists are the way we put order to chaos. I know that as I grow older I rely more on lists – shopping, projects around the house, tasks for work lists – than I did before. (Though I have been making lists since my teen years, some of which are in journals from that time.) They do help with the memory. Sometimes. I have been known to scribble on a list something like “Call Harry” and then the next day looked at it and wonder why I needed to call Harry. Was there some specific thing I wanted to tell him, or was it just that I thought it was time to chat?
Lists can be hopeful. Just this week, I made a list of garden ideas for next spring. I guess I plan to be alive in six months.
Lists can be depressing. I occasionally find lists of things I wanted to do from a year or more ago and realize I haven’t done many or any of the things on it. What have I been doing with my life?
I have a love/hate relationship with my lists. But when I finish typing this sentence and hit “publish,” I can cross something off this week’s list, and that I find quite satisfying.