I am the queen of Post-It notepads, especially the larger ones that are lined. They are perfect for making to do lists, one of my favorite activities. I especially enjoy creating my lists with fine-tip black Sharpie pens. Somehow the striking bold ink on cheerfully colored paper that can be affixed to almost any surface seems to render the lists more accessible and less daunting.
And some days they are. Sometimes, the mere act of writing down what needs to be done is calming because the task has been removed from my memory, which can be spotty, and is memorialized on that sticky piece of paper. When the lists are short and realistic for the time I have available that day, they serve their purpose and prove to be helpful. But like many people, I run into trouble when my list is unrealistic – when the tasks listed are far too numerous for the time I’ve allotted to do them.
The Problem with To Do Lists
The problem is that the lists are not only far too ambitious but that they fail to account for the reality of life – unexpected events occur and can completely change the direction of the day. As they say, “Stuff happens,” and in making the lists, I often fail to factor in the “stuff.”
As a result, these unrealistic lists can result in feelings of failure and negative self-judgments as I focus not on what I actually accomplished that day, but what I did not do. No matter how productive I was on any given day, my tendency like that of most people, is to focus on “things undone.”
Rethinking My To Do Lists
With mindfulness and self-compassion, I’m shifting my focus and rethinking my lists. First, I am acknowledging that I don’t always need to be “productive.”
There has to be time in the day for both “nourishing” activities and also to “just be.” My morning meditation periods, walks with my dog, talks with friends, preparing and savoring delicious meals, staring out the window at the autumn leaves, spending an extra few minutes in a nice hot shower, or getting a pedicure may not be “productive” is the narrowest sense (and won’t appear on my to do list!) but they are essential to a healthy life as they “feed” me. They are the necessary counterbalance to the busy, activity filled moments of life that while energizing can also be depleting.
Also, I’ve learning to celebrate what I have accomplished in the day – no matter how small. Whatever I am able to do moves me one step forward in my life and on my pathway. I also know that it is better to do one or two things well and with intention rather than race through a multitude of tasks mindlessly – quality over quantity.
And, finally, some days, it’s just better to throw out the list (or never make one) and just let life happen – and embrace it.