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The Myth Of Lists

To do list: find other to do list
Not much to do today, eh?
  • – Boot up computer
  • – Think up topic
  • – Write today’s post

Lists run my life. And I am thankful for them. I started this morning with a pen and an empty, recycled envelop beside my bowl of hot cereal. By the time my cereal was eaten I had a to do list of eleven things.

The first item on the list was “Two blog posts,” one for each of my two main blogs that I write. The second item was an 11 o’clock appointment. The fifth item was to call our mechanic about the car I’d dropped off in his lot last night.

Pretty smart things, right? Adulting things. Things that, once done, make me appear responsible. Things that being reminded of obviously would be a good thing.

Executive things

That’s it, they are things that my executive function should remind me of, if only it were functional.

Okay, unfair. My executive function is functional, just not as functional as it should be. It has flaws and failings.

And one of it’s larger failings is poor access to a broken working memory.

Thus, lists

Exactly, a list can be a substitute for one of the more important parts of ones working memory.

And multiple lists can serve multiple purposes.

But lists have two flaws.

The first flaw

Lists are static. My mind is fluid, the places where I keep to do tasks in my mind is an adaptive thing and it can take into account changing things and adapt as it needs to.

Lists can be changed, but they must be attended to to be changed and the more they are changed the messier they get.

Also, there’s no list item that says, “update list.” And if it’s not on the list it might not get done. After all, how important could it be?

The second flaw

Lists are physical things. They are on your phone or they are on a piece of paper. They get carried around to different places and left behind. They get covered over with layers and iterations of Candy Crunch and face-mess and instatwit and tinderzon and what have you.

A list, as substitute for your working memory, is only effective if you remember you have it and remember where you left it last. And if you could remember that all the time then you could likely do a fair imitation of having a functional working memory.


Lists on phones are getting smarter. The one I sometimes use can be set up to remind me of certain things, if I remember to do that.

But lists that interrupt me when I’m working on something else can become pretty annoying really quickly. And it usually isn’t long before I turn off the notifications and attempt to go it on my own.

Maybe that’s why I have an old envelop with my chicken scratch on it telling me what to do today while my phone sits idly by, counting my steps and waiting for messages from people who want me to forget about my to do list?

I’d show you a picture of my list, but I’ve misplaced it. It’s okay though, I’ve started a new list … as you can see above.

The Myth Of Lists

Kelly Babcock

I was born in the city of Toronto in 1959, but moved when I was in my fourth year of life. I was raised and educated in a rural setting, growing up in a manner I like to refer to as free range. I live on the traditional lands of the Chippewas of Nawash in an area where my family history stretches back 6 or 7 generations and my First Nations friend's families go back hundreds of generations. I was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 50 and have been both struggling with the new reality and using my discoveries to make my life better. I am a freelance writer and I write two blogs here at Psych Central, one about living with ADHD and one that is a daily positive affirmation that acts as an example of finding the good in as much of my life as I possibly can.

Find out more about me on my website: writeofway.

email me at ADHD Man

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APA Reference
Babcock, K. (2020). The Myth Of Lists. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 14, 2020, from


Last updated: 28 Jan 2020
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