Creating Kinder To Do Lists


Tone can be quite briefly retuned – a question mark ?

Perhaps degree of concision is really an orthogonal issue – the OP’s helpful and well made point is that imperative tone (however lengthily or briefly expressed – some bosses are brief, but others are very wordy) can have unnoticed, almost somatic, costs.


Fair enough, although the examples in the blog post are all longer than the imperative ones. I certainly don’t mean to prevent others from using the idea, and if it helps people feel less stress, that’s great.

Personally, I find “pickup library books” clearer and more direct than “your library books are ready to be picked up”, and I don’t find the former more intimidating. It’s just a note from myself to myself at a later time, not a command from a micromanaging evil boss.

One thing I 100% agree with the author on is that there’s an art to writing to do lists – how much detail to include, where to include it, how much to break down tasks in OF, vs other places vs. just in my mind. The emotional voice of the tasks is a relevant dimension for sure. I just personally find most of the examples to be a bit on the flowery side in a way that gets in the way of the communication.


This reaction reveals a potential difference in how we view efficiency and speed in processes and software. I see a lot of value in things that slow us down.

Yes, this is exactly what I was intending to get across. Well put.

I’m actually more excited about the practice of future-self kindness this “kinder” orientation invites, but I have also personally experienced that a hundreds-long list of commands affects my relationship with OF. As I posted originally, I don’t expect this to resonate for the majority of users.

Agreed. It’s a work in progress.


I do too, actually. But in this particular case, I guess I lean more towards scanability, not because it’s more efficient per se, but more because it reduces the cognitive load in absorbing and evaluating a group of items.

In the same vein, I put a fair amount of effort into making the lists that I’m actually dealing with at a given time, relatively small. For example, during a weekly review every Sunday, I pare down my list of items for the week to around 30 at the most across all areas of life. Then when I’m actually working, I often pare it down further by clicking on an “area of life” tag.

Anyway, interesting idea. Thanks for the discussion.


I’d love to hear more about your process for keeping lists limited. It’s something I haven’t figured out how to do. Have you written about it elsewhere?


This reminds me, re brevity, that the hallowed tradition of framing lists around ‘actions’ (whether commanded or kindly alluded to) is itself a source of redundancy.

Simply naming a fine-grained outcome (pruning out the apparatus of ‘actions’ and ‘actors’, compelled or willing), is often shorter, more appealing, and more helpful later on.

(Not unlike refactoring code from imperative to functional – C is more verbose than Haskell).


I’ve never published it, but I do have a write up:

The main idea is to heavily use defer to push things out into the future. I have a “this week” perspective, which is essentially everything that’s available. That’s the view that I pare down to 30 items or fewer. (Note: if there are a lot of sequential projects in that 30 items, there will be a whole bunch of hidden items. If I’m feeling like that will be a problem, I sometimes use a “this week” tag to make those visible in a similar perspective.


Simply naming a fine-grained outcome

Another interesting idea. “Begin with the end in mind.” I think that would work well for writing projects. Unless it’s obvious, that doesn’t feel like it would tell you “this is the next thing you need to do to move toward that outcome”. Also, there’s definitely a dopamine hit related to checking off items on the list. At least for me.


Side note, I really wish that Evernote was better on iOS. I loved (past tense) the app and would love to use it again, but right now it’s unusable on iOS. It just hangs and restarts constantly.