Want to be more productive? Make your to-do lists one item long.

Here’s a simple math fact that has recently changed my relationship to my work:

1 > 0.

That’s it. One is greater than zero. Or, more to the point: something positive is better than nothing at all.

A simple principle, but completely indispensable. Under this principle, it doesn’t matter how small the good is that you do. It just matters that it’s done.

Voltaire wrote: “Perfect is the enemy of the good.” I hate blogging because I hate when people see my writing and it’s less than perfect. What’s the solution? To write. To write blogs that are just okay, possibly bad. Why? Because 1 > 0.

Let’s domesticate it a bit, bring it down to daily life. Is it better to write a To Do list that’s 13 items long, with giant vague items like “Clean house” included? Or is it better to write a To Do list that is a single item long, something narrow and specific like “walk to the park with Jill?”

Two differences: 1) there’s no way to feel happy about a long, insurmountable list, even if you complete it. 2) The small list items get cared for. They don’t just get done, they get cared for. You can give focus and affection to “Walk to the park with Jill,” so that it eventually becomes “Walk to the park at the river with Jill,” and eventually, “bring that pastry Jill loves to the park with the river.” What does it matter to you how long it takes? You only have one thing to accomplish!

Whether Jill is a lover or a friend, or whether “Jill” is a placeholder for another task that might appear trivial at first glance, you will walk the hell out of that park with the river, and you’ll probably feel better about it. So will Jill.

For me, today, that meant writing this blog post in one quick draft, with a swift edit, and not worrying about beauty, precision, sublimity, etc. All those literary, “writerly” concerns.

And instead appreciating that it’s more worthwhile than writing nothing at all.

If you read to the end, just indulge me on this: Write your ONE ITEM To Do lists.

Happy weekend!

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