I love my to-do list.
I hate my to-do list.
I love/hate my to-do list. Yes. That’s it!
And I know I’m not alone.
Just last week three different clients spoke haltingly about their to-do lists as if they were confessing a painful addiction.
I get it. I, too, was under the punishing thumb of my never-ending, always-taunting, hand-written list. I hated it as much as I thrived on it.
At my worst, I would sometimes add a task to my list that I already accomplished just for the thrill of crossing it off.
I had fallen into the culturally reinforced “we are what we accomplish” trap—only as good or bad, worthy or unworthy, as our to-do list proclaims us to be at end of any given day.
Enough, I say.
It’s time and it’s possible to make peace with our to-do lists and reclaim a bit of our freedom in the process. And in case you are starting to hyperventilate in anticipation of my telling you to shred your to-do list, rest assured that’s not what I’m suggesting.
It’s not the to-do list that hurts us; it’s our relationship with the list that causes our suffering.
Here are some ways I’ve improved my relationship with my to-do list.
- Name your list! I named mine Gloria. Don’t ask me why. Now I can talk back to her any time—especially if she’s getting overly rambunctious.
- Decide what kind of relationship you want with your list. I no longer wanted to be bullied by my list. Instead I want a collaborative, supportive partnership, sprinkled with a dose of fun (like writing with a purple crayon) every now and then.
- Remind yourself how rewarding it is to have enough activity in your life to even warrant a to-do list. I hope I never get to the point where I don’t have one.
- Instead of just scratching something off your list, try to take 10 seconds to actually feel good about it. Sometimes Gloria will say, “You Go Girl” or “Great job—that was a tough one!”
- If you end the day with items still on your daily list, ask yourself, “Did I do my best today given all that was happening in my inner and outer life?” And if you can say, Yes, then it’s enough.
- If something stays on the your list for more than two weeks without being attended to, then it either doesn’t matter and should come off to make room for what does, or it matters so much you may be procrastinating and need to break the item down into smaller tasks that you can act on.
- If you want to feel less overwhelmed and more joyful about your to-do list, imagine the to-do lists of others. (I think of my 17-year-old daughter’s list: pre-calculus homework, ACT prep courses, high school drama or the president of the United States or a single mother living in the inner city.) Immediately I feel more compassion for others and more grateful for my list.
- Set a “to-be” intention at the top of your to-do list each day that declares how you want to be as you do. For instance, today I wrote ‘Frisky” at the top of my list. This is a way of staying present to the quality of your life, not just the doing of your life.
- Take a break! Once a week, usually on Sunday, I give Gloria (and me) the day off of list making. At first I was terrified of what I’d do without my list but now I have found those days, in small doses, quite liberating.
How about you? Write to me and tell me how you navigate your relationship with your to-do list!