I enjoy a to do list. It helps me stay focused and recall what tasks are of value and then provides a little rush of dopamine when I get to cross something off. Well, that’s how I normally feel about a to do list. But last week, not so much. For every item that came off, several more got added. Things were getting done, but it didn’t seem to be enough to make the list any shorter. Quickly enough, it began to feel like a bottomless pit – seemingly never-ending and quite bleak.
Clearly, something needed to change.
Now everyone has their preferred methods for tackling a problem. Me? I take a walk and think about it. While this might sound passive, it’s anything but. As I walk and think, I work backward, trying to determine how we got to the point of failure and what factors contributed. If my own words and thoughts don’t get the job done, I take that same walk and listen to someone else’s. In this case, it was a book about habits. While I don’t remember the exact nugget that produced a revelation, I realized that the problem was very simple…
My list was a pile of “have to do” and “need to do,” but absolutely no “want to do.”
Make no mistake, we all have things we have and need to do, but by and large, those things produce outcomes, not joy. A quick internet search for a definition of joy produced this, “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness” (Oxford Dictionary). I am pretty sure that your garden variety to do list has never reached the heights that definition promises. Joy is truly awesome and something I think we currently need a lot more of.
That might leave you wondering what to do, if you find yourself in a similar situation…
Well, the obvious answer is to add some “want to do” items to your list, but the truth is, if you don’t actually DO them, you don’t get the benefit of them. So, here’s a few thoughts on changing the nature of your to do list.
- Really get clear about the things you want to do. There are so many things we don’t have much choice about, but this isn’t one of them. It’s your “want to do” list, so the items on it need to have value to you. If you have been on the merry go round of “have to do” you may need to spend a little time getting back in touch with what you like. Don’t feel pressure to do someone else’s things – if you don’t love a hot bath, that’s more of a “never gonna happen” than “hey, this will be the delight of my soul.” It’s ok to need time to think this through and there’s no shame in revising your list. Maybe a hot bath isn’t your jam, but time to sit and think, while looking at nature, is. You do you.
- Make it a priority. Schedule time for the things you want to do and hold that sacred. We recently had a client share that there’s a difference between self-care and aftercare. Self-care is that ongoing process of attending to your own needs and refilling your metaphorical bucket. After-care is a clean-up operation, done once everything feels well and truly out of sorts. Our goal is self-care, so make a plan, schedule time and follow through.
- Rinse and repeat: if you find something that really nurtures you and feels restorative, consider making it a ritual. Having a few things that bring you back to center are worth their weight in gold, so cultivate and enjoy those as often as possible.
As we move into spring, your “have to do” list will inevitably contain plenty of tasks that transition your home and life from winter. The ultimate purpose of a to do list is to help us focus our attention on things that matter. And if they can help you find joy? Well, those are the kinds of tasks I think we all want to check off.