Blog Archives

Our Lust for Lists

A journalist from Chile who works for La Tercera sent me interview questions for a story she is writing on lists (since I am the author of To-Do List: From Buying Milk to Finding a Soul Mate, What Our Lists Reveal About Us and the “world’s leading todolistologist” :). Once her story is published, I will share it. I also thought I would share my answers with you. Especially because I am planning to offer an upcoming todolistology course; this might inspire you and you might want to join me. To stay in the loop and find out more about the course, please sign up here.

New Year’s Resolutions of a Brooklyn 16-Year-Old Girl, 1956

Why do we need to make checklists?
We make to-do lists because we would be lost without them. We have too many things to do to remember them all. Writing a list relieves anxiety because we record everything we have to remember and get done. Once it’s down on the list, we can stop worrying about it so much.

Why people still prefer the tactile experience of writing their lists with pen and paper?
Although I use an online to-do list program Things, I am still a huge believer in writing a list with pen and paper. Eighty-nine percent in my listmaker survey also prefer writing lists with pen and paper. The tactile experience of writing a list in your own handwriting is a chance to settle down and detach from the infinity of the Internet and settle into yourself, to feel more grounded. Now you are in own world, thinking about what you need to today, tomorrow, or in this lifetime.

A list written in your own handwriting is more personal, like a contract with yourself. It carries more weight. I accomplish a higher percentage of the items on my handwritten lists than my electronic ones. Plus when you handwrite you can doodle and be creative, and our lists are one of the everyday places where we can be creative. Read more ›

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Posted in Lists, Press, To-Do List

My To-Do List Talk at Google

I had a great time presenting the funniest and most intriguing lists from To-Do List at Google. Through the magic of YouTube you can watch it here.

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Posted in Press, To-Do List, Video

The New Year, New You Fantasy Re-Emerges

Here’s a brief essay I wrote on New Year’s Resolutions, published today in the San Francisco Chronicle.

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Posted in Press, To-Do List, Uncategorized

List Slam Grand Slam

Are you full of optimism with plans for how 2008 is going to be different? Or would you rather sit back and listen to what other people are resolving? Either way, the New Year’s List Slam is for you.

Come to a New Year’s List Slam, a chance to read your own New Year’s list out loud and hear other people’s lists! A List Slam is like a poetry slam, but instead of poetry, people read lists. It’s also a celebration of my new book To-Do List: From Buying Milk to Finding a Soul Mate, What Our Lists Reveal About Us.

Recently featured on Talk of the Nation, To-Do List is collection of 100 lists and the stories behind them. It’s a fascinating look at our obsession with lists, goals, and the notes we write to ourselves.

Bring a list to read or share (New Year’s Resolutions–or “intentions”– encouraged!).

New Year’s List Slam I
Tues., Jan. 8, 7:30 pm
San Francisco
Modern Times Books
888 Valencia Street, San Francisco

New Year’s List Slam II
Thur., Jan. 10, 7 pm
San Francisco
Red Hill Books
401 Cortland Avenue, San Francisco

Want to throw your own List Slam? Read these tips.

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Posted in To-Do List, Uncategorized

Talking Up To-Do List on Talk of the Nation

On Christmas Eve I had the pleasure of chatting about to-do lists, and what they reveal about us, with Neal Conan on Talk of the Nation. Here’s a link to the show.

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Posted in Press, To-Do List, Uncategorized

How to Take the Self-Flagellation Out of New Year’s Resolutions

I’ve always been like a Boy Scout. Their motto is: “Be prepared” and I like to think ahead too.

January 1 is still a month away but I would like to share a little bit about New Year’s Resolutions, a list occasion that has become fraught with anxiety and self-loathing. I don’t think it has to be that way.

We have a bizarre relationship with New Year’s resolutions. In late December we’re bombarded with tips for thinking big, so we can become the ideal person we want to be. On the other hand, there’s a growing sense of fatalism around resolutions—that if a commitment is made at New Year’s, it won’t work, by definition. Forty to 50 percent of Americans make annual promises to themselves. The other 50 percent boast they have given up resolutions. They’re not going to spoil a holiday dedicated to debauchery with the quest for self-improvement.

I’ve always been fascinated by resolutions because our relationship to them is so complex and contradictory. I have a whole chapter dedicated to New Year’s Resolutions in To-Do List.

Why is it so hard to keep a resolution? Probably because a yearlong promise just doesn’t make sense. Change happens in fits and spurts. The most effective to-do lists are full of items broken down into their most minute parts, extremely achievable goals (walked up a hill today as a first step, yeeha! . . . now I can cheerlead for myself by crossing that off). I always thought monthly resolutions might be a better approach, if you can stand the constant work and thought of self-improvement.

I do think that there’s something very special about New Year’s lists, though, as a time of collective listmaking introspection. It’s the only time of year when we all make lists and talk about them together. That can be fun, if you don’t allow yourself to be burdened by the pressure of fully living up to them and instead use the holiday as an excuse to find out how and what other people resolve and use their ideas as inspiration for your own. I am by now notorious for buzzing around New Year’s parties asking people about their resolutions and giving them an impromptu life coaching session to help them create at least one or two if they don’t have any. Come on, I will say, there must be some area of your life where you’d like to explore something differently: friendship, work, love, art, travel, exercise?

Here are some ways that I think resolutions can be fun and less full of self-flagellation. Add your own in the comments.

‚Äö√Ѭ¢ Sneak a peek at other people’s lists. First and foremost. I think it’s really fun to find out what other people are resolving to do. You can easily do that on todolistblog.com. I will publish five handwritten resolution lists every Monday in the month of January.

• Throw a List Party. Instead of making your resolutions alone, ask your friends and family to come over and write lists together. You may even be able to make resolutions for each other and help each other achieve them.

• Even better, make your list party visual and make it a collage party. Invite everyone to bring over stacks of old magazines. Cut out photos from magazines of all the things you want to manifest in your life. Hang your poster where you will see it often.

‚Äö√Ѭ¢ Treat New Year’s as a true list holiday and go on a list spree. Light a candle, sit in a comfortable chair, crack open your journal, and write list after list. Lists are not just about self-improvement, they’re a chance to take your mental pulse, to listen to the voices in your head. Make at least five lists: Accomplishments in the past year, lessons learned, things to be grateful for, the top ten moments of the past year, things that interest me.

‚Äö√Ѭ¢ Give yourself credit for partial success. If your resolution was to read a book a week and you keep it up for two months, that’s eight books. Same goes with weight loss, exercise, and saving money. Tiny steps!

‚Äö√Ѭ¢ Save your New Year’s lists every year in a special box; every year you can read them. Just don’t be depressed if you don’t happen to cross everything off. Think of your lists as more of a personal history than just an organizational tool. Our lists can be a unique window into who we are and what we want. It’s truly wacky to read your meta to-do lists from ten years ago and see how similar (or perhaps different) they are.

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Posted in To-Do List, Uncategorized

Save the To-Do List! (Some people want to save the whales. I want to save the to-do list.)

Every day, more and more people use technology to organize their lives, including their to-do lists. But do we lose something when we do everything on a computer screen? I believe that handwritten lists are still the holy grail of listmaking—and I am declaring January 1, 2008 the official launch of a worldwide Save the To-Do List Campaign.

Save the To-Do List will kick off with New Year’s Day, our national holiday in celebration of listmaking. Whether we’re writing resolutions or top ten lists, New Year’s is when we’re most obsessed with lists, and we can enjoy the special powers and pleasure of taking pen to paper.

To participate in Save the To-Do List Campaign, please send your handwritten lists (especially New Year’s Resolutions) to todolistblog.com [email them to todolistblog AT gmail.com]. During January, five handwritten New Year’s Resolutions will be featured every week.

Why save the handwritten list? Here’s a list of five reasons why we shouldn’t stop making paper lists (regrettably typed):

1. Taking pen to paper just feels good.

2. Crossing off tasks–highly satisfying.

3. Electronic lists look generic, handwritten lists are unique to us.

(And therefore more effective at getting us to get things done.)

4. The act of writing is meditative. It focuses us to clear our heads and commit to our goals.

5. Doodling!

Please add your own in the comments.

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Posted in To-Do List, Uncategorized

To-Do List on NBC11


Here I am spreading the gospel of To-Do List!

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Posted in Press, To-Do List, Video

Happy Birthday To-Do List!


The To-Do List book comes out officially today! Buy it on Amazon, Powell’s, or Barnes & Noble. Here’s a video trailer to celebrate its release.

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Posted in Press, To-Do List, Uncategorized

The Mysteriously Alluring List Slam

The SF Weekly has a very nice write-up on this Saturday’s To-Do List release party. Yes, it’s true, the List Slam is mysteriously alluring. You won’t want to miss it. So come to Cafe Royale, 800 Post Street at Leavenworth, with your list in hand. 8 pm. Saturday, November 10.

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Posted in Press, To-Do List

Hello. . . I’m a writer and a life coach for quirky independent singles.

rsz_untitled-4098-edit"We should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once."--Nietzsche

Back in 2000 I started the quirkyalone movement helping women and men celebrate their lives whether they are single or in a relationship. According to the New York Times, "Ms. Cagen is not against setups or dating, online or otherwise. She is emphatically not against sex. Rather, she writes, she is anti-dull relationship." Here's my story and how I help you.

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