3 To Dos to Stop the Eternal To Do ListsNov 01, 2022
Life can become an endless to do list. Perhaps you wake up with a list running through your mind and cannot wait to get into action? Or, maybe you’re someone that feels everyone imposing their tasks onto your schedule? When our time is filled to the brim and we cannot take a moment to sigh, breathe into our belly, and become aware of the sensations in our body - then we have lost our connection to trust the flow of life. Discover 3 simple things to undo that to do list, and get inspired to take a different type of action.
The Tendency ‘To Do’
I love a good list. The satisfaction of knowing what to do and then ticking it off. I also love organisation and efficiency, and this has always been noted from my first work as a Stage Manager in theatre through all my professions. I recall that in my most pressured legal job, I had a constant list of 70-80 active matters (that doesn’t include the sub-lists of each matter). I was content with this list of work and, also, accepted that my work day could mean achieving 3 of those 70 would be a highly accomplished day! If you wanted something done I was always a reliable person to ask.
You may be one of these people that is great at doing everything for everyone. It is seductive to be the person who is that identified in the saying ‘if you need something doing, give it to a busy person’. Yet, most of my clients come to me fed up of this role. Exhausted at ‘doing’ for everyone else and not themselves. Drained of their purpose and creativity, perhaps even pangs of resentment for being so ‘helpful’ to others.
The propensity ‘to do’ a great deal can touch on many aspects of the way the mind works, such tendencies can be:
(i) the desire to plan with the pretense that we are in maintain control over everything,
(ii) keeping too busy to stop and address our own inner pains until they shout so loud with health issues that we are forced to break, or
(iii) that by being needed by others with all our doing we are being of value and worthy of our life.
I know that I was all of these, and in reality, it doesn’t really matter what the cause is - the important key is the one that unlocks our awareness that we use ‘to do’ to hide from our Highest Self.
The Neuro-Professional’s Approach
In the first 5 months of my head injury I was advised “choose to do less”. The Neuro Occupational Therapist said “Only 5 things in one day, and your goal is to only accomplish one of them”. The brain when relearning tasks needs additional energy to focus on rebuilding the new neural pathways. It becomes exhausted if we do too many tasks and the recovery is set back. An intention of neuro-professionals is to rebuild routine patterns in the brain so that we can set them as unconscious patterns and then have brain energy to focus on other things.
Two and half years into my injury I realised that my ‘to do’ lists were still too long, but most importantly these lists did not include rest and time in nature - acts to nurture myself. Challenged by my need for a list due to the satisfaction of ticking it off, I purchased a paper diary and set a maximum of 5 things I could do per day with the goal of doing only 3 of them. This was for everything - cooking, catching up with a friend, teach a client or plan a holiday.
This practice increased my awareness to how my need for ‘efficiency’ relapses - I would do items not on the list or be ‘hyper-efficient’ and perform 3 or 4 days’ worth of my list. The days following my ‘hyper-efficiency’ were low mood or harder to get things done – ‘hyper-efficiency hangovers’. It’s akin to eating habits of starving ourselves and then binge eating.
To Do 1: Make a task list of no more than 5 things each day. Log your to dos and the impact it has on you each time you over do or only achieve 5 or less on the list.
The ‘Should’ or ‘Must’ Factor
Those lists of “I must do” or the job that “only I can do” are so easy to distract us from what we truly want. They overwhelm us and contribute to the whirlwind of anxiety or depression that we are unsuccessful in our life. It also fills the ego with a sense of importance that the task will not be done (or as well) if not by you.
I wanted to fully recover yet my ‘to dos’ distracted me from true rest, that would help me recover. I still wanted to feel that I was of some value, productive; and my ego was hiding behind this all. I chose my to dos based on what made me feel like I contributed to society and this did not include my health. I love community and giving, so it is important to me to contribute in my tasks, yet I must address that some of this is also my ego that wants others to be grateful for what I do - validate and appreciate me.
The truth is that if you don’t do something then it may not get done because it does not need doing, or it may get done by another in their way – just be ok with that. The only responsibility you have on your to do list is to make yourself happy. Because if you are happy and well, then you will be more productive and generous with those around you.
Four years into recovery, I actively chose to shift life gear into travel to lead healing retreats. My health had improved a great deal yet insomnia and migraines could come knocking if ‘too much’ made it onto the list.
As I traveled there were still lists - writing this blog once a week is a ‘to do’. However, my tasks became how I choose to help others or myself. I prioritise feeling happy over accomplishing an item.
A daily item became ‘space for me’ this can be a workout, meditation, walk, sunbathe but it is important that it is time alone and nurturing activity. All else undertaken is from an overflowing cup of joy.
To Do 2: If you find yourself using the word ‘should’ or ‘must’ in the task, then you have to stop doing it. Yes, feeding your kids is necessary but find another way to get them fed so you can be in your joy with them.
After two years of living back in a City (and almost 8 years post injury) that energy of ‘doing’ is easy to roll along with. I still love to do lists and keep a white board for the month - then I can enjoy the satisfaction of an empty board at the end of the month! Limiting the space on it helps me to keep the month minimal, yet how is the day consumed with so much ‘to do’?
As a mere human, I still have the desire to give to my community and support my business growth to serve more people. Yet, with running my own business comes the endless task list of improvements. Isn’t that the self-work path anyway? Or is it that self-worth shadow sliding into a highly seductive gear?
My schedule has marked empty space to ensure I get admin tasks done, I allow blocks of time to enjoy walks in nature, friends, yoga, meditation and breathwork but I note the ability to be haunted by ‘not done’ tasks. I sought support in my business with assistants and yet it wasn’t quite working out that way.
I had shifted priorities and begun to notice a less joyful presence in my doing time. I was doing what was recommended by others for business, yet they did not resonate with me. How to get out of this apparent procrastination from what I really wanted to do?
It is very easy to procrastinate by being busy doing what does not fulfil our heart. A key question to decide what tasks are prioritised in my business - does this bring peaceful joy to my heart? If yes, then it makes the list.
To Do 3: Only select your 5 daily tasks from what brings your heart joy. “Follow Your Bliss” as Joseph Campbell said. If you are unsure, then journal on the questions below after a little breathing meditation here.
How To Do Less Bonus Tips:
You must make a choice about what you want to do with your time in this life. If it is hard to follow your joyful heart (this is hard when we are in pain), then use these questions may guide you:
- What do you truly want?
- Does this item contribute to what you truly want?
- Why does this item need to be done by you?
- What drives this item being on my list?
Ignore social media, emails and texts - unless it is a life-or-death emergency, it can wait.
Leave others alone - let them judge, be disappointed or even respect you. Don't do their stuff for them, it's their life so let them work it out.
You can have it all, but it will cost you something bigger than you realise. So perhaps accept that less will give you more in the long run.
If you would like further support, then join our Embody Life Sanctuary where you can connect with a soul community of kind and caring efficient people to receive tools to support your path to doing less and living more in your purposeful flow.
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