What We Can All Learn From Johnny Cash’s To-Do List

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Even legendary musician Johnny Cash had to put “practice piano” on his to-do list. (Photo: Everett Collection)

In some way or another, we all keep lists — lists of groceries to buy, assignments to complete, possessions to pack, etc. It’s a helpful way to keep track of important things we would otherwise forget.

I love lists in every form, whether by me or by other people. I was enchanted a couple years back to see Phil Patton’s piece in The New York Times on “Our Longing for Lists.” The piece was illustrated with the image of Johnny Cash’s to-do list (which, by the way, reportedly sold at auction in December 2010 for $6,250).

Here’s the list. On a sheet printed with the words, “Things To Do Today!” Johnny Cash wrote:

  • Not smoke

  • Kiss June

  • Not kiss anyone else

  • Cough

  • Pee

  • Eat

  • Not eat too much

  • Worry

  • Go see Mama

  • Practice piano

In the section marked NOTES at the bottom, he wrote:

  • Not write notes

I was gratified to see that Johnny Cash follows one of my Secrets of Adulthood: Every to-do list should include a few items that can be accomplished in the next five minutes. It’s important for morale. And even Johnny Cash had to practice piano.

It was interesting to see that “Worry” was on the list. Most people try not to worry; I’d be very curious to learn why Johnny Cash wanted to worry, and what he intended to worry about. Or maybe he was thinking “Not eat too much” and “Not worry,” and just wrote it down that way.

How about you? Do you find to-do lists helpful? Do you keep them on paper or on a device? I still use paper.

Gretchen Rubin is the author of the blockbuster New York Times bestsellers, Better Than Before, The Happiness Project, and Happier at Home. On her weekly podcast Happier with Gretchen Rubin, she discusses good habits and happiness with her sister Elizabeth Craft. She writes about happiness and habit-formation at gretchenrubin.com. Follow her on Twitter @gretchenrubin, or on Facebook, at facebook.com/GretchenRubin.

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