To Do List

by mark neely

If you keep a “things to do” list, you know there is no magic moment when everything is checked off and you no longer have “things to do.”

If you ever have achieved this magic moment you are 1) unemployed, 2) childless, and 3) have a live-in chef/housekeeper. Or maybe you are just incredibly efficient and organized. If so, I don’t like you.

“Things to do” can get in the way of the things you want to do. These things are always an excellent excuse. Answering email or going to the grocery store are both easier and require less thought than writing chapter three. I have a friend who calls this (substituting one task for a harder task) “virtuous procrastination.”


Usually “things to do” come first–they are pressing, urgent, affect the lives of family and colleagues.

But if I let my to-do list stop me from writing for very long I become listless, angry, despairing, impossible, or some combination of the four.

Although it isn’t always possible, there are times when I put writing first, and the to-do list second, knowing I will pay for it later.

Here is a different kind of list. Things I do when I want to get my writing blood cells moving towards the brain.

1) Read a few pages of a good book.

2) Read a few pages of a bad book.

3) Go through the newspaper–the local rag or the Sunday New York Times both work.

4) Coffee–by far the best drug for writing. Increased energy and attention and it gives you something to do between lines or sentences.


5) Going to a reading, art museum, movie, concert, or bus station–I have a job and kids, so I rarely do any of these things but I should.

6) Physical and solitary activity—running, yardwork, painting the bathroom.

Mark Acton

7) Freedom–I type in 60-120 minutes then don’t allow myself to get up from the computer until it’s over. Writing is preferable to boredom.