If you have an ever-expanding to-do list - then you're failing to understand your mortality. That's right, your cherished, life-affirming task list is ultimately a pathway to your own death!
Let me explain...
Years ago, my good friend Rich Gibson and I were thinking about design principles for software that reflects who you are, what he called an "Internet of Values" - in essence, applications and services that allowed you to articulate your values (not your tastes) and helped you stay true to them using intelligent feedback loop; a to-do list is at heart an articulation of our life's goals - whether immediate or long-range.
Here's how Rich explains it...
"When you put a thing on your to-do list, you are making a commitment to do it," he says to me. "Meaning you aren't going to do some other things." He pauses. "So you have to choose between those things. Now, why do you have to choose?"
I think about this for a second. "Because your time is limited?" I venture hopefully.
"BECAUSE YOU ARE GOING TO F*CKING DIE," he responds.
Rich goes on to suggest that...
"one's to-do list, in whatever form, is ultimately a skull on the desk, a memento mori, a reminder that our time here really is limited and we ought to make the most of it, in as much as the list is also meant to be a tool for helping one actually do so"
The reasoning may be morbid, but it's certainly thought provoking. Indeed, just last month, celebrated Italian author Umberto Eco debuted a new exhibition about the place 'lists' hold in our culture and noted in an interview with Der Spiegel that...
"...how, as a human being, does one face infinity? through lists, through catalogs, through collections.."
Eco suggests that lists and collections ultimately embody the ways in which we think about death and are intrinsic to our culture. Rich is however more pragmatic and goes on to suggest a 'Someday' or 'Maybe' list for lingering tasks and hazier goals which should perhaps never be part of to-do lists anyway.
Both Rich and Eco offer fascinating and thought provoking perspectives on otherwise innocuous cultural artifacts. Indeed, Twitter's recent launch of its Lists feature hews close to Eco's notion of cultural curation - lists as 'playlists of people'.
I'd like to think that future to-do list application could sense and interpret my goals, subtly helping me to differentiate between Submit Knight Foundation proposal and Visit Tokyo as 'to-do' and 'someday' tasks....could software that sensed or guessed at our values, ultimately help us rediscover them?