Today would have been John Wayne’s 100th birthday, and David Hinckley at the New York Daily News penned a remembrance that embraces one of my favorite tools of effective execution: the simple to-do list.
John Wayne, who would have turned 100 on Saturday, doesn’t represent The American Man only because he was tall, rugged, straight-talking, confident and impatient. No, his real qualification, often overlooked, is that he understood that life is one long to-do list.
I’ve always felt that listmania was something of a guy thing, as my wife to this day doesn’t really understand that she needs to actually write something on my refrigerator list in order for it to finally get done. I don’t have the ability to mentally keep track of hundreds of tasks, like she does (cough…). Mr. Hinckley helps confirm my suspicion.
That’s what American Men do. They live and die figuring out ways to cross items off. It’s their quintessential trait.
Lists provide a path to execution, to getting things done. They may not inherently include vision and strategy, but work gets done. Maybe this penchant for lists is tied to the conquest of the American West.
They saw how things were and how they needed to be, and their mission was getting there. Yes, many famous American men shared some degree of this trait. That’s what "conquering the West" was about, which is why "conquering the West" and Westerns became the great American metaphor. Buy a wagon and a gun, pack in some vittles, round up the womenfolk, head West, push the natives off the land and settle down.
A to-do list, a can-do attitude, and not an apology in sight.
I live and die by my lists. I’ve tried various electronic methods from laptop to PDA to phone, but they never have enough speed, flexibility, and downright simplicity, therefore I always revert back to scribbled notes in my journal. Occasionally I will tie them to longer-term projects and strategies, but in general they lie buried within the other notes I take at meetings, on phone calls, or while experiencing the random brain fart at lunch.
I draw a small box next to them in the left margin so I can easily find them and check them off when complete. And at least once a week I’ll review the journal to find any orphaned tasks, putting a small tick mark on the top of the page when there are none remaining to speed future reviews.
Hey, it works for me. It must be due to my inner cowboy.