Just (Don’t) Do It. How to cure your To Do list addiction.

Personally I love a good list. Actually, if I am honest what I really love is crossing things off my list, rather than the list itself. Frankly the list itself is the devil on my shoulder constantly whispering ‘oh, you haven’t done that yet Louise, and you so totally should have done that already, and you promised that…’ whispering away at my inefficiencies. It’s a lovely way to punish myself for that which is left undone, and yet I persist with the lists because of the sweet high I get each time I cross something off (the angel on the other shoulder whispering sweet nothings about my legendary productivity!). It’s a double edged sword, and after a busy few weeks at the start of term where I feel I have been working really hard but do not seem to have crossed off anything (arrghh!) it got me thinking about the power of The List.

I have come to the conclusion that having a ruthless spring clean of the To Do list is a good idea. In fact I have gone a step further and made a To Don’t list. As  a result I am getting much more done and feeling a whole lot better about things. I have called a truce with my To Do list and realised that I cannot do everything, and there is no such state as finished. Whilst I am breathing there will always be things to be done, stuff that’s outstanding and that’s okay. My To Do list was draining me of both energy and time. It was always making me feel like ‘theres not enough time’ which is an uncomfortable place to be. I am clearer on my priorities and, weirdly, getting a lot more done! Plus…I am enjoying it more.

Ah, enjoyment: that was what I had lost sight of mesmerised by the awesome Power Of The List. When my focus was on just getting the damn thing done so I could cross it off the list and move on to the next thing the enjoyment of the task shrunk to almost nothing. Any enjoyment was deferred to the moment of the grand crossing off of the list. As I would say to my yoga students in class I was entirely ‘in the future’. My focus  was on the completion of the task itself not present with the actual doing of the thing at the time I was actually doing it. The only place that joy truly exists is in the present moment : so I was abdicating my joy to The List. Not cool. By spring cleaning my To Do list I’m enjoying the present so much more, whether that’s writing a blog post, or a new workshop, or clearing the admin or ordering the new mats. I am looking for what could be joyful or intruiging in each moment rather than looking for the short high at completion as I cross it off.

Want to do an audit of your To Do list, (including the secret mental list we all have!)? By cleaning it up you will feel much better about yourself and reduce that nagging feeling that you haven’t quite completed everything. The nagging ‘must do’ is one of our greatest energy drainers…it leaks away our energy and motivation whenever we think of it as well as robbing us of present moment joy. Here’s a few simple steps to make peace with your To Do list:

1.     Review anything you have had on your To Do list for more than a month, write down the mental stuff thats also kicking around, like ‘Paint the House’; ‘Organise 50thBirthday party’ and ‘read that amazing Booker prize novel and impress all and sundry with cultural prowess’.

2.     Have a look at the list…realise you are but one person, with 24 hours in a day. Get real with the fact that, however marvellous you are, however a skilled multitasker, in this age of information overload YOU CANNOT DO IT ALL, AND THATS OKAY!

3.     Breakdown the list into three categories…I like to write all my To Do’s on individual Post It notes (I have a serious stationary addiction)…makes this part much more fun! Divide your post it notes or your list into three columns:

a. I want to do it and I am absolutely going to do it

b. I don’t want to do it but it needs to be done

c. When I really think about this I think the world will keep spinning if this maybe never happens

4.     Magic. What we want is to be spending most of our time on category ‘a’ stuff: stuff you love and feel excited about spending your time on. Life is never quite as easy as that though, and my To Do list certainly spans all three categories…here’s what to do with each:

a.     I want to do it and I am absolutely going to do it. Excellent! Pick up the phone (now), write that email (now) and make it happen (now). If you can’t do it right now then put a time in your diary and block out a time as if it was a meeting that you will dedicate to this. If it’s a big project then break it down into baby steps and commit to taking one baby step each day in 15 minutes or less. Eg. Organising the 50th birthday party. One day baby step: research venues on the web. Day 2 baby step: put together invite list. Day 3 baby step: call venue and get quote. Etc etc. By making your activities just 15 mins or less each day you will find you get to your goal WAY FASTER than just having it on your To Do list for 6 months and not starting it because it looks too big and overwhelming. That’s how people get to the top of Everest…one tiny baby step at a time. Before you know it you will be in your best frock at the party with your bubbles in hand!

b.     It needs to be done, but you don’t want to do it. Fair enough, there is much in life that that falls into this category. Two options here: either BRIBE YOURSELF…make the job more palatable by rewarding yourself heavily after you complete it (yes, yes bribery doesn’t just work on small children to reinforce good behaviour, this is your excuse to appeal to your inner child)…bribe yourself with a half day on the golf course or a massage or whatever flicks your switch enough to get your GST return returned. The other option here is to BARTER IT…can you swap this task or job with someone else for something else? ie. the kids clean the car in return for an afternoon at the beach. Or barter it for money…you have been putting off painting the house for the last 4 summers…honey, clearly it’s not going to happen. Face up to it and exchange the house painting for cold hard cash. As Gordon would say ‘done’. So onto the final category in the To Do list:

c.     Now I really think about it the world will not stop spinning if this thing does not happen. Good to know right? We can have stuff that’s been mentally cluttering our minds for years that we “should” do. And that’s your answer right there…if you haven’t done it in all that time then that says that other stuff has always been a higher priority and likely always will be…so stop torturing yourself, and let go of that To Do. The post it note tasks that are in that pile…well…you can go ahead and…..gaaahhhhhhhhhh…shock and horror….THROW THEM AWAY! Just delete them from your To Do list, not just physically but mentally too ( if this freaks you out you can put them in a pile and put them in a bottom drawer to review in a few months time and then discard). What seems to happen here is a magical thing…by changing the energy one of two things happen…either I forget all about the thing I had been beating myself up to do (sometimes for years), which means it wasn’t so vital anyway…or…somehow the thing will seem to happen all by itself by someone else taking care of it. By releasing my attachment to the To Do, that I was surrounding by all this static Not Doing energy the thing just seems to resolve itself as if by magic. To Don’t lists rock I have found; hand this third category over to The Universe to sort out.

So…Post It Notes at the ready? Give yourself half an hour to make peace with your To Do List and  see how much lighter and easier you feel.

Always love to hear your thoughts…do share below!

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