Minimalism and to-do lists

I’ve been learning more about minimalism, and the more I apply this concept to different areas of my life, the happier I become. It’s impressive how simplification and minimalism can make things clearer and lightweight.

One recent area in which I applied minimalism was my to-do list… or, rather, my to-do listS.

I love making lists. I love planning and I have lots of lists related to goals, things I want to do someday, projects I started, projects I want to start, ideas for posts, ideas for projects, plans for things I want to do in my personal life, ideas on how to improve my wife’s business, and so on.

I also tend to have bookmarks on my browser, articles in Pocket, and books in a “to-read” folder.

Recently, while minimizing my physical possessions, I experienced a feeling of clarity and freedom. It felt like all that stuff was waiting for me to do something with them, or clean them, or enjoy them more. Now, I felt free!

After that (ongoing) experience I remembered a quote from Bruce Lee’s “Striking Thoughts“, one of my all-time favourite books:

To live now you must die to yesterday.

That resonated with me. I was getting rid of physical possessions that made sense in the past, but didn’t make sense anymore; by removing those, I felt more present, freer, happier. Then I thought: “wait, why don’t I apply this to my to-do lists, goals, and projects?

And I did.

I created a backup and stashed it in an online bucket, and then proceeded to delete all my bookmarks, all my Pocket files, all the books from my Kindle, all the project files in my computer, all my to-do lists, all my goals, all my ideas.

Now I had a clean slate.

As a result of that cleanup, I felt free, excited and ready to do something. I no longer felt the burden of all those things I “should” be doing, “should” be paying attention, “should” be getting back to.

Instead, I wrote. I wrote three posts in one day, and immediately scheduled them for publication; I did that after several months without publishing anything. I don’t have a list of ideas now: I simply write, review, and post.

I also wrote code. I wrote some small utilities and got back to a project I had abandoned in the past. I don’t feel burdened by hundreds of directories under ~/code; now I only have a single project there.

Analysis paralysis, the paradox of choice… these things are real. They overwhelm us, paralyze us, and make us unhappy.

Removing physical clutter made me feel less burdened and overwhelmed by all the things I should be using or cleaning or doing with those things.

Removing ideas, goals, and projects made me feel free to actually do something instead of following resolutions that I made in the past, in different circumstances and mental states.

I still write 1-3 work-related items in a to-do list every morning, and I break those items in small and granular tasks to make myself productive; however, this is not about tracking: it’s about processing and thinking. I delete that list at the end of every day.

So, get those lists of ideas and goals and throw them away. Burn them. You’re not the same person you were yesterday. If you want to do something, just do it; if you don’t want to do something, don’t make yourself miserable.

Remember: “To live now you must die to yesterday.

2 thoughts on “Minimalism and to-do lists

  1. Holy guacamoly.
    Two days ago I’ve read your “cell phone decluttering” idea. It was scaring at the beggining. Lots of apps going to trash, but I’ve made it: Actually, I’ve made my own version (as my work CONSISTS on social media, I couldn’t ger totally rid of them), and it worked like a charm.
    Best result: I’ve read a FULL BOOK in two days, because I no longer waste time on my phone (and I still have Candy Crush installed, but moved to the third pannel of my iPhone, so I don’t look at the icon all the time).

    Alright, mister. You’ve won. It worked.

    But now you’ve gone too far. HOW DARE YOU TO MESS UP with my sacred bookmarks bar?
    I even have YOUR NAME on it (there’s a button called “Dirceu”, I swear).
    There’s the “Muse” folder – with everything I should do to my future projects.
    There’s the “My classes” folder – with inspirations I should use when – in the future, somewhere – I record my online lessons.
    There’s even the TO DO folder, with everything I couldn’t find a proper folder to bookmark (all of them end up being to-do’s).

    Once again, your text is making a huge impact on me. It’s freaking the shit out of me, but right after finishing this comment I’m gonna give it a try.
    It worked with every single piece of advice you’ve ever given me, since… forever. So, there’ll be no backups.

    No notepad list of the most important bookmarks. They’re just going for good.
    The only thing that is going to be kept there is your name. A little button that points to this very blog.

    As that name is one of the good reasons of my life being so good nowadays.

    Thanks for all the incredibly valuable lessons, my friend.

    1. I just wrote a bunch of self-deprecating jokes and “yes, but you taught me…” to reply to this post, but I need to learn to take a compliment so: thank you. I’m thrilled this was useful. 🙂

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