The other day I was going through my planner and looking at my past weekly to-do lists. I noticed a couple things about these lists: One, there were several times I did not complete a task that week, and two, there were several tasks that make recurring appearances until I either finally did them or gave up (or pretended I never needed them done in the first place). Also, sorry, let’s be completely honest here: I don’t know if I ever finished my tasks on a given week.
I could get depressed by how bad I am at getting things done.
Or I could swing to the other side and live by my to-do lists and never leave room for any adventure or the miraculous or grace.
Some people look at a to-do list and how much it can control you and then they’ll tell you they’re “throwing it out and really living.”
I didn’t emphasize that word to make fun of these other bloggers and their ideas, but I’ve got to tell you that swinging the pendulum to either side isn’t usually healthy or beneficial.
Because small changes last longer. First off, if you want to walk away from something, drastic decisions don’t always last. They can, but there’s no guarantee. I see it all the time when people “leave” social media and then they’re back a week later. (Now, in the case of walking away from actual addictions, I’m not well-versed. Find a qualified expert to help you.) But when I wanted to cut down on social media I couldn’t just quit. Facebook doesn’t let you, for one. I needed the small steps (see what I did here).
But again, I digress, that’s not the purpose of this post. I’m here to tell you that if to-do lists are really killing your ability to live life, like, truly, then maybe you do need to walk away. But if to-do lists just make you feel like you’re striving, can I suggest a simple change of perspective?
Think of to-do lists as a map.
Mental to-do lists don’t always fly. If you don’t write something down you may not remember to do it, or you’ll spend a lot of time trying to remember what to do instead of just reading it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a great idea (so I think) that’s disappeared because I never wrote it down. Our fuzzy brains can’t keep track of everything. Why do we have maps? To get to where we want to go.
Regardless of detours and bathroom stops, you still have the destination in front of you and the steps on how you’re going to get there, even if the trip doesn’t go exactly as you planned. Which, newsflash, it never does.
But what about the idea of slowness? Then slowly go through that to-do list, I don’t care. No really, all kidding aside. We are unfortunately in a time and culture that doesn’t allow for a lot of slowness. We are a product of our cultures. It doesn’t mean we’re slaves to it, but it does mean that we have permission to utilize the tools our culture has given us. And I think we confuse slowness with simplicity. We should still work hard and get things done; we just don’t need a ton of responsibilities to juggle at once. Also, a to-do list isn’t a sign that you’re in over your head and trying to keep up with the appearance of someone else’s life. It just means you have work to do, and you’re not going to remember it all on your own.
So don’t get trapped by your to-do list.
Think of it as a map, and I promise you don’t have to have a completed one at the end of every week. In some weird way it’s almost better to have a list to throw out so you can go out and do crazy things than no list at all. Don’t ask me how to explain that.