Your To-Do List is Doomed

by Rebecca A. Watson on October 31, 2013

in habits, life, multitasking, perception, priorities, time

While living in Germany, I haven’t been able to work. I should be getting a visa soon to be a freelancer, which I’m stoked about, but until then I have been focusing on getting the house and our lives in order in this new country.

As the furniture building and unpacking and shopping has slowed down, I’ve started just doing the everyday stuff. All of this can be difficult when your language skills are essentially that of a two-year-old.

“These are my shoes. Can you repair?”

“Can you dry clean please?”

My German is getting better now that I’ve started taking language classes every morning, but this period of a few months where I had no obligations really drove something home for me.

I have no children. My only task during this time was to keep the house in order: do the grocery shopping, wash clothes, clean the bathroom, etc.

When you think about it, I had every hour of my day available to get things done. And yet, there are still letters to be written, workouts missed and pictures to hang.

For too long, I would tell myself I would knit when I finished everything. I would go for a run after my chores were done. My meditation could wait until after I crossed off a few more things.

If it weren't for this race, I doubt I would've crossed off nearly as many workouts.

If it weren’t for this race, I doubt I would’ve checked off nearly as many workouts.

Here is the secret I’ve learned: Your to-do list will never, ever be done.

I am living proof of this. If I, a Type-A human being with a serious compulsion for crossing off things, can’t get to the end of my list after months of trying, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that most people can’t.

I write this not to depress myself or the students desperately cramming for another mid-term exam or the amazing working parents who manage to support their children through hip-hop classes and cello lessons.

I write this to free us all.

If we can never get it all done, then why not just stop trying? Why not do what needs to be done today and nothing more? Or better yet, why not do what you want to do today?

I say damn Benjamin Franklin and his don’t-put-off-until-tomorrow-what-you-can-do-today mentality. What needs to get done will always find a way. If it didn’t, it didn’t really need to get done in the first place.

In writing this, I’m not trying to condone a hedonistic lifestyle. Balance is the name of the game here folks. I’m not going to deny that there are probably a few things you don’t enjoy doing that need doing, like clearing out your cellar or setting up a budget.

Unless you're like me and find personal finance fascinating.

Unless you’re like me and find money management fascinating.

But if you spend all your time doing the things that you view as chores, there will never be time to do what you love to do. Your hobbies will continue to wait for your attention. Your muscles will atrophy.

The things you do to make this world a more beautiful place for you will languish. And that, my friends, is tragedy on a gargantuan level.

There’s a phrase within the personal finance world — pay yourself first. I try to adopt this in all of my life. No, this is not selfishness; this is survival for the human race. If you don’t take care of yourself, how you can take care of anyone else?

So in the spirit of paying yourself first, I encourage you to get up a little early and meditate for five minutes (if that’s your thing). Or just grab a cup of coffee and write a page in your journal. Or spend a few bucks on fresh flowers every week.

When you’re comfortable with that, start enjoying some hobbies on the regular. Not really sure what those are? Ask yourself this: What did you like to do as a kid? Then do that. I’ve got coloring books and crayons in my office.

You may say, “Oh, but I haven’t enough time!” Folks, time is an illusion: easily malleable and changeable. Don’t believe me? Why do we have phrases like Time flies when you’re having fun? If you need some help, try my method for slowing it down.

Or maybe you think that you’re more productive than I am, which could very well be true. But when all is said and done, you’ll probably never have the kind of opportunity I had with months of free time to get your chores done, so why not take my word for it?

I’m begging you, please: Eff your To-Do list. Have more fun. Create new habits that involve more of the carrot and less of the stick. Start playing. The dry cleaning can wait.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Olivia October 31, 2013 at 9:27 am

I’ve heard the pay yourself first and have implemented that for savings, but I never thought about that with time management. I am the queen of to-do lists… that usually never get completely crossed off and it’s frustrating. I try to make them attainable but yea… everything you said!

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jan behr October 31, 2013 at 10:36 am

Hey Miz Watson…love your blogs…such honesty!!!! I have decided that I am going to buy myself flowers every time I see snow. … flowers on the table! !!! Hope Germany treats you well! !!

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Lily November 1, 2013 at 3:20 am

Oh I love this! Yay for you! “The things you do to make the world a more beautiful place for you” – how beautifully put. Yes, those things deserve more priority than all the chores and tasks we (I) endlessly angst about. It’s so easy to spend too much time futzing over dumb chores when we could just go outside for 10 minutes and enjoy a cup of tea amongst the greenery or… whatever.

I just started a meditation course and I’m surprised how hard I’m finding it to just do five minutes twice a day. Which is nuts. Anyone has time for 10 minute a day. It’s more about committing to it somehow.

Anyway, thank you for this lovely post and I hope all is fabulous in Germany otherwise.

Lilly xo

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Ms. Becca November 1, 2013 at 7:55 am

Olivia, yes, I completely get the to-do list. There is something so enjoyable about it, but still it’s frustrating. Bah! Time to go bake cookies 😉

Thanks Mama Behr! I’m so glad you are reading my blogs and liking them. I love the idea of flowers when you see snow. That makes it a little easier to handle, I hope.

Lily! Thanks so much for your nice comments. I know exactly what you mean about finding 10 minutes. It really can seem impossible. How is this? I agree with you: commitment is key. How are you doing your meditation? Guided or unguided? I’m curious to hear how you like it.

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