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The To-Do Abyss

We’re all familiar with the idea of a to-do list. When you have a task that needs doing, you put it on that list. Then later, you remove it from that list by completing the task.

Except, what if that second part never happens? Adding things to your to-do list can become a clever type of procrastination.

To-Do AbyssIt feels like you’re doing something responsible. Oh, I’ll just … *takes out planner* … add this to my to-do list.

That phrase sounds so organized, so adult. But it can become code for “well, there’s no way in hell I’m ever going to do this.”

The problem with to-do lists is that when you continually add items to them without ever removing items, they become something else entirely: a to-do abyss.

Sometimes, emergency action is required to prevent a to-do list from turning into a to-do abyss.

One step you can take is to schedule what I’ll call a to-do day: a day where you set aside several hours devoted to crossing items off your to-do list. By actually doing them, I mean – although I guess you could just go through crossing things off, saying “guess I don’t have to do that now!” and laughing maniacally to yourself.

If you want to be extra organized, you could even have a certain day of the week that you devote to staring into the to-do abyss. To-do Tuesdays, anyone?

I confess that I’m not that organized. Rather, my method is that I continually add tasks to my to-do list until one of them becomes unavoidably pressing. Then I use that as an opportunity to tackle not just the task that can no longer be ignored, but other tasks on my list.

That’s the beauty of the to-do list: by grouping tasks together, you’re more likely to spring into action on all of them when just one becomes urgent. We ADHDers tend to leave tasks to the last possible moment. But if tasks on your to-do list are part of a single package, reaching the last possible moment on just one task can trigger a to-do day, leading you to confront other tasks as well. To me, that seems better than waiting to the last possible moment on each task individually – especially since some tasks have no defined last possible moment and can theoretically be put off indefinitely.

After my outstanding success in tackling items from my to-do list earlier this week, you might be eager to ask me: “So, Neil, how does it feel to actually do some of the tasks on your to-do list?”

Thanks for asking. It feels great. And I believe that someday you will have that feeling too. There comes a day for all of us when we wake up and know in our hearts: today is a to-do day. Sooner or later, we all find the courage to cast ourselves into the to-do abyss.

Image: Flickr/Stacy Spensley for the original (I made some changes)

The To-Do Abyss

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on education, learning disabilities and technology. He received his B.A. in 2014 and was diagnosed with ADHD at the beginning of his college studies. Neil also works for a music education non-profit and hopes to help create an education system that can better serve students with ADHD.

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2018). The To-Do Abyss. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 6, 2019, from


Last updated: 10 May 2018
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