The To D'oh! List: Limiting And Learning From Your Mistakes

I used to hide from my mistakes because I believed that recognising them was an acknowledgement of fundamental, irreversible flaws. Then I decided that was a stupid way to view the world, so I started my To D'oh! list.

We all make mistakes. Some of them are minor, while others may seem catastrophic. And then there are those weird, repetitive quirks that need acknowledgement before they can go away. It's easy to say to yourself that you won't make the same mistake again, but it's harder to write it down and face it every day.

Start Your To D'oh! List

The To D'oh! list was born out of the need to keep my mistakes here at Lifehacker in order. It initially started as a text file called "Thorin's List of Troublesome Words" and included common grammatical mistakes.

Over time, it evolved into a more generalised list of mistakes. I keep a single file on Simplenote so I can access it and add new things wherever I am. It even has sections:

  • Thorin's List of Troublesome Words: As mentioned above, this is where I write down my common grammar mistakes, misuse and other writing-related things.
  • Work D'ohs: Here I'll dump ideas that didn't seem to go anywhere, failed article ideas, times I should have asked for help, and any workflow-related issues.
  • Project D'ohs: This is my failure bin for various DIY projects. It includes mistakes from projects — usually regarding my misuse of power tools or materials.
  • Life D'ohs: These are the general d'ohs, ranging from getting lost when blindly following GPS directions to considerably stupider things. I'll also toss in embarrassing moments in public so I can look back and see why I was embarrassed.
  • Delayed Response File: You know those moments where you come up with a better response to something someone said 15 minutes after the fact? I put those responses here.

One key thing to note is that these To d'ohs aren't just for complete failures. They can also include smaller things I've made mistakes on, such as a misstep in a project. The list is also a collection of better solutions I came up with after the fact so that I get it right next time.

After all, nothing is perfect. Most things we do have lessons in them somewhere. Photo by Steve Jurveston.

How the To D'oh List Helped Me

Like most people, I have always recognised my mistakes, and I've certainly tried to take useful lessons from them. However, it wasn't until I really looked at them directly that I began to notice themes and began to really work on them. This isn't a new idea by any means, but the act of writing down mistakes has stopped me from making them twice.

In some cases, the corrections are mostly subconscious. My list of troublesome words, for instance, has mostly been eradicated (although more always get added in). My behaviour has changed too; I'll often spend a bit more time reflecting on things. I often return to the To D'oh! text in my brain when I'm in similar situations so I can backtrack and not repeat a mistake.

My To D'oh list is a collection of everything I've learned — not every mistake I've made. The list is filled with both causes and effects. It's a place to find inspiration for how to do things differently. I'm not going to stop making mistakes, but at least they'll be new ones.


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