Saifee: Life Is Not a To-Do List


David Chenoweth

“This is where I decided I wouldn’t be an Engineer” – Zahra Saifee, in front of the College of Mines and Earth Sciences building, a formative place and experience she reflects on with graduation coming soon. Photo taken Thursday, March 24, 2022 (Photo by David Chenoweth | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Zahra Saifee, Opinion Editor


I make lists and love putting goals on a timeline. I’ve always been that way. My to-do-list mindset doesn’t only apply to school and work. I have a list of the best brunch spots in Salt Lake City, the best bathrooms on campus and my favorite Zoom icebreakers. Lists help my world make sense. Checking things off, even the fun things, makes me feel productive. But, throughout college and my time at the Daily Utah Chronicle, I’ve learned that the best things in life don’t happen on a predetermined timeline or in a series of checked boxes.

I felt secure in my decision to go to the University of Utah because I made a list of everything I wanted to get involved in. The Chronicle wasn’t on that list. As a STEM major, my mind was solely focused on research. After I switched to a communications major, writing became a more important part of my to-do list. Up until that point, I thought that writing was something I needed to get done rather than something I was actively doing. So at the beginning of my junior year, I made a list of skills I wanted to improve upon, writing being one of them.

I started writing for the Chronicle’s opinion desk to implement an active writing structure. I knew I liked to write, loved to read and had opinions. But I desperately needed the pressure of weekly deadlines to ever turn those facets of myself into something tangible. And it seemed to work. I always met my deadlines — I felt accomplished and productive. My to-do-list mindset thrived when I reached word counts and got things in on time.

However, as I wrote more frequently, elements of my job challenged my to-do-list mindset. Writing takes time, but I didn’t always spend a ton of time on it. Sometimes I could crank out an op-ed in two hours. Others would take a day of sitting in bed, writing only 30 words per hour. I hated that writing didn’t always have a reliable rhythm. I couldn’t create a checklist that would result in a perfect op-ed. I hated that writing for me was a messy and, at times, slow-moving process. So when the opportunity arose to become the opinion editor, I took it. I didn’t hate writing but I loved timelines, efficiency, productivity and checking things off more. The role of the opinion editor didn’t seem messy, but I was wrong. 

Yes, much of the responsibilities as the opinion editor required a to-do list mindset. Each week, I spent time planning out the budget, turning back outlines to writers and check-marking boxes in an Excel spreadsheet. It felt so productive to get things done in a timely fashion, working through edits and budgets like a robot. 

But the things that couldn’t be boiled down into a checklist were what I ultimately loved about the job. I found that my to-do-list mindset could only take me so far. It built a foundation for job success, but it didn’t help with the relationships I’ve made or the community that I’ve come to rely on. The to-do list mindset didn’t prepare me for how much I would come to love the sometimes lengthy and unpredictable process of getting invested in the ideas and people you care about. 

I loved spending hours planning out bigger-vision things with my assistant editor. I loved talking for hours in the office about the Chronicle and anything else that came up. I loved spending time on writers’ pieces to help them make their writing stronger. I fell in love with the process of writing as an editor which was unexpected — the edits, revising, rewriting, the nitty-gritty details that didn’t even make the to-do list because they were that specific. I ended up loving the messiness that I originally found uncomfortable. 

I’m leaving the U and the Daily Utah Chronicle with a new mindset. This mindset embraces the messiness, knowing that the things that make me feel happy and fulfilled can not be restricted to a to-do list and a timeline with set outcomes. Building a community of people you care about, discovering new parts of yourself and diving into ideas that inspire you is what life is all about.


[email protected]