What I love most about checklists is the moment when I mark the last item complete. There are few things as satisfying as the sight of that ink-blackened paper, demonstrating to the world that I have met all expectations for the day.
I am convinced that checklists make me more effective as an employee and more conscientious as an adult, but sometimes I need a reminder that my value as a human is not defined by my ability to check items off a list.
Last May, Forbes Magazine published a list of “Top 100 Inspirational Quotes” on its website. Here are a few examples of the pithy sayings that made the cut:
• Steve Jobs: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”
• American entrepreneur Jim Rohn: “Either you run the day, or the day runs you.”
• Latin Proverb: “If the wind will not serve, take to the oars.”
This list exemplifies the “bootstraps” mentality that we are successful (and valuable) in proportion to our hard work, motivational pep talks, and self-sufficiency. Unfortunately, I began reading the “Top 100” on a day when it seemed nothing could go right. My checklist for the day was still three-quarters full, and it was already dinnertime. And I am not even a mom! I can only imagine how busy moms and dads survive.
In a culture where success is defined by productivity, it is easy to fall prey to the notion that our checklists are the measure of our worth. If that is true, there is only one logical way to respond: I cheat.
My favorite strategy is to create a to-do list with only one item on it, just so I can have the satisfaction of crossing it off. Have you ever done that? Some days, my measuring stick for being a successful human is whether or not I have climbed out of bed or eaten breakfast. That piece of paper with a single line drawn through it makes me neither more organized nor more conscientious. It just makes me feel less like a failure.
In a brief moment of unconscious clarity this week, I exclaimed, “Man, I wish we could wake up to to-do lists that were already fully complete!” Then it hit me how much truth lies behind that wish.
When you wake up in the morning, you do not have to do anything in order to be valued, worthy, or loved. If you accomplish nothing this day, you are still as loved, still as valued, and still as worthy in the eyes of your Maker.
That knowledge grants us all the satisfaction of completing the day’s tasks—as much or as little as we may accomplish—without fear of failure. The checklist that matters is not ours; it is the one that has already been declared “finished.”