Thinky Thursday: To-Do Lists

Welcome to a new series, Thinky Thursday, wherein I share a thinky thought that’s been percolating in my head. This series will run when I have something to share, however often that might be. What’s a thinky thought? Tune in for a few of these and you’ll find out. 😉

A blog I started following recently is Hands Free Mama: she’s sharing her journey away from being overly focused on to-do lists, perfection, etc, and towards focusing on what matters: time spent with her family. It’s a thing that resonates with me, and most of her posts are quite inspiring. Her most recent post, Vow to Breathe, made me ponder. She shares her Vow to Breathe, her daily prayer, with us. It says, in part:

Read more …

Vow To Breathe

No longer do I want to feel like I’m always running late.

No longer do I want to feel like I’ll never catch up. …

No longer do I want to feel the brush of a hurried kiss on my husband’s lips. …

No longer do I want to feel depleted and empty.

No longer do I want to feel like each day is a blur.

No longer do I want to feel half alive.

Instead, I vow to breathe.

I vow to…

It’s very good and worth a read – go read it now. I’ll wait.

Anyway, I stared at that second line in particular, “No longer do I want to feel like I’ll never catch up.” I often feel like I’ll never catch up. I could only articulate one thought: “Yeah, sure. Of course I want that to quit happening. But HOW?” All of it, really – of course I want to focus less on my to-do list and more on enjoying time with my husband. Of course I want to quit feeling like I’m (or actually) running late. And so on. But HOW?

Now, she may have already told us; I haven’t really explored her site. Her book had actually just released that day; maybe the answer’s in there. But instead of looking into these options, I just mulled it over myself.

The thing is, for me, I need my to-do list. I function better with that list on paper in front of me, but whether I have it or not, I have these tasks that need to be done. Clothes have to be washed; food has to be cooked; dishes need to be washed. Life gets miserable pretty quick when these things don’t happen (I know, I was once a bachelorette.) So regardless of whether you have a literal list or not, you have these things to do, and they have to get done. You could get more mellow about whether or not they get done, but only to a point. If you get too mellow, you start to live in a sty with no water because you didn’t get around to paying the bill, turning your clothes inside out over and over again, and probably falling ill eventually. Clearly simply forgetting about your to-do list isn’t the answer.

No, instead we have to find a happy medium. Despite this being the answer to so many queries, it still somehow seems difficult. So I mulled it over some more. How to find a happy medium between “MUST GET DONE NOW!!!” and “Oh, who cares, let’s tickle and play some more!”?

But then I realized what I need to do: focus differently.

I’ve always thought of my to-do list as a set of tasks to get through (sometimes to suffer through) as quickly as possible so I can do something I want to do. The list has always been an annoying buzzing fly to take care of so that the picnic can be enjoyed.

But what’s on my list? What do I need to do? Why, it’s all the stuff that makes up my life. Schedule that date with that friend. Then go. Write that letter. Cook that meal. Reply to those emails. It’s my life. It’s how I’m choosing to spend my few precious hours on this planet. Wait, no, it shouldn’t be about getting through this as quickly as possible – I want to experience my life, and hopefully enjoy the journey!

I don’t know why I never thought of this before – enjoying the journey is exactly what road trips are about, and they’re just about my favorite thing ever.

Obviously this point of view won’t work for everyone. For one, what’s on your to-do list will have a huge impact on your ability to look at it this way – but then, you control what goes on your list.

The other thing I think many people will have to fight against is the massive pressure our culture puts on us to focus on the next thing. When I was in school, all the focus was always on the next school and how it’d be there, and how I should prepare for that. Now, conversations I have seem to always include what the next vacation will be of at least one person in the group. Having something to look forward to is important, but I think we’ve taken it to an extreme, to the expense of savoring the moment.

I encourage you to try, however. Rather than feel overwhelmed by what you have to do, rather than feel like you’ll never catch up, realize instead that it is precisely doing these things that keeps your life full and hopefully happy. If it doesn’t, then change what you do, of course. Savor whatever it is you spend your time doing: enjoy it for its own sake.

  • Stop and talk to the people you interact with in your shopping and errands; get to know them. It makes shopping so much less of a chore when you’re going to see familiar faces of people you know a bit about.
  • Banter with the call centre worker when you have to phone up the water company; try to make it enjoyable.
  • Take pride in a lovely meal, and the wonderful time it provides you and yours together to chat about whatever’s on your minds.

And so on. Enjoy the journey; quit focusing on striking everything off the list. That’s what I’ll be trying to do. Join me.

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