self-care · simplifying

Death To My To-Do List

You know how some people are organized and efficient? They are planners. They’re the ones who check the movie times when they’re going to a movie with friends. They’re the ones that check ahead of time to make sure you don’t need a reservation at the restaurant for dinner.

Yeah – I am not one of those people. I never have been, and I doubt I ever will be.

My favorite way to go through life is as the willing, flexible, and laid-back participant in a group of people that includes a planner, such as the kind of person described above. I am a grateful and always-willing-to-help participant – but I’m not the best candidate to be in charge of the details of an event. First of all, I’m not great at managing said details, and secondly, I HATE IT SO MUCH.

Ugh. I really do!

But, as an adult, I find myself having to plan more and more. First of all, after years of living in group housing with fun friends all around me, I am now (and have been for several years) living in my own house, just me and Tamara and Edgar. In 2008, I lived in a big building in the middle of the woods with eight amazing, fun, and like-minded roommates. Every night was a party and it required no planning whatsoever, because everyone was just THERE.

Now, I have to make plans if I want to see friends. And it works…okay. I still miss the convenience of having friends right next door, where fun could be had spontaneously and with little to no planning.

In addition to the planning my social life requires, there’s just – ugh – so much adulting to be done. And that’s where my to-do list comes in.

I constantly feel overwhelmed by my to-do list. One of my Summer Sabbatical goals is to finish every single item on my list so that I can start fresh in the fall, with literally EVERYTHING in my life taken care of. I don’t know if I’ll meet this goal, and I am okay with that. I want to enjoy this time, and get writing done, and spend time with Edgar – those things are more important to me than a to-do list.

AND YET IT PLAGUES ME. I’ve been daydreaming lately about ways to kill my to-do list forever. My train of thought starts with a conversation I had with a co-worker a few years ago.

This particular co-worker always, always, always responded to every e-mail and request immediately. If I asked her to “when you have a second” check on a note for me, I’d get my answer back within twenty minutes. I always thanked her profusely, but also let her know that I usually don’t require that quick of a response time.

“Oh, it’s no problem. I just do things right away so I won’t forget to do it,” she explained.

I had probably heard people say something similar to this before. But at this moment in my life, I was brainstorming about ways to be more efficient, and this really hit home for me. I’m a great employee and I’m a reliable person, but I am constantly afraid that I am going to forget to do things. I realized that if I did what this girl did – if I did everything that was asked of me right away – then I wouldn’t have to worry at all about remembering. Everything would just be done. (Gretchen Rubin calls this the one-minute rule – if you can do it in a minute, then do it right now.)

It occurred to me that if I could do this – if I followed a policy of doing things right away – then it is possible that someday, I would never need a to-do list. Instead of writing an item on my to-do list, I would just take care of it. No list needed.

This was eye-opening for me. Was that why some people seemed less stressed than me? Were they not constantly carrying the weight of a to-do list a mile long? It also explained why some people get so aggravated when they have a task they can’t complete because they’re waiting on info from someone else. They’re not used to having uncompleted tasks – so that low buzz of anxiety my to-do list causes me starts screaming in their ears.

I’ve never been able to fully put this into practice, and I’m okay with that, especially when it comes to work. I am a therapist who works with kids; I’m never going to prioritize responding to an e-mail over a child’s need to talk about a problem. And at home, I want to prioritize writing time and family time over my to-do list. However, lately I am finding myself completing tasks quickly and immediately whenever I can, mainly because I don’t want to add another item to my to-do list. I want the list to get shorter, not longer. It feels amazing. Here’s hoping I can keep it up!


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