How I Escaped My To-Do List
I once moved to a new country on the basis that I’d found a friend who loved crossing things off to-do lists as much as I did.
Ok, that’s not the whole truth, but it was a moment of revelation, the ‘it’s not just me’ experience.
Connecting, community, solidarity and swelling, burgeoning joy.
I really, really liked lists. My life was run by my to-do list and that was just the way I wanted it. This kept me efficient, productive and on track. I knew how to do lists, I knew how to work hard and be good at things. People joked that I was some kind of super-efficient robot with my ability to hone in on a task and get it done no matter the odds.
Travelling 200 miles on trains, buses, cabs and snow-wet treks?
Obscure academic research with weeks in the backs of the stacks next to the oversized volumes or pouring through online journals until my eyes blurred?
Cleaning the house from top to bottom including washing the walls and skirting boards?
Finding a home for a petulant parrot or a unusual and specific animal?
I was on it.
I discovered business efficiency books. I applied these to my entire life.
This wasn’t necessarily a good thing. It was like when I was a child I read a book on speed reading. My reading has been speeding up ever since.
I get through books in an hour, I’m not skimming, I just read that quickly. I can recite it afterwards. It’s not as good as it seems. Sometimes I want the books to last longer, leisurely, enjoying them for a long time. Even savouring and consciously trying to read slowly, I still consume them at the same pace.
Then read a book on how to get addicted to crossing things off your to-do list. Perhaps that wasn’t one of my better ideas.
It was all I did. I began adding everything in my day to the list and then blazing through ‘relaxing’, ‘meditating’ and ‘yoga’ DONE! Next!.
One of my teachers said she had never seen someone approach relaxing so forcefully and determinedly.
‘I’m going to relax the most, I will be the best at it! Tell me how to do it, what else can I do? Do you have homework, can you give me a reading list?’
[Then I got very ill and I couldn’t blaze through my lists anymore. I ended up blazing trails instead. Which is why you are reading this now. What can I say? I have that fire…]
One summer I finally got to the end of a to-do list. The first time ever.
I had absolutely no idea what to do with my life if I wasn’t cutting down my to-do list.
Not one single blessed idea.
What would I do when I woke up in the morning? What?
So I sat down and made up an entirely new list of tasks. More languages to learn (because, of course, I don’t have enough already and I use them all the time), more topics to study, craft projects and things to create. And then I cracked on with that list.
Did it result in happiness?
No, but I improved my italian, gained 4 more qualifications and filled a tiny walled garden in Berkshire with veggies and plants from top to bottom.
But happiness? No.
I was happy, I enjoyed my life, I had direction, I had larger purposes that guided my to-do lists (get my degree, save animals, survive and not die etc).
But the lists ran me. The lists were in control rather than being a tool to help me wrangle and control all the disparate tasks and actions that make up a life.
At the end of 2012 we had a period of business consolidation. Everything had expanded and grown so fast we hadn’t managed all the tasks we needed to do. So many of these would make things easier. So we put growth on hold and created a stable base for future successes. At the end of 2012 we had finished this list.
I’d finished my list. Again.
For the second time in my adult life I didn’t have a huge to do list. It was terrifying and liberating.
I know what you are thinking? Quickly, sit down and write another, I can think of some things for you to do, you haven’t finished Sanskrit and you need to make time for Greek and maybe Gibbon…
But I didn’t. For the first time I am entering a year without a huge list of goals to attack.
We have goals sure, and big plans, but there is something really different here.
I’ve been working off the list I’d made when the doctors thought I had sarcoma, now I love everything we do, but this list was written from a place of ‘things I’d want to have done if I die, or if I get to live’. I had great faith but I hadn’t actually planned what would happen when we managed it all.
I suppose I thought all that would take care of itself. But now I’m here, with my dreams come true, I know I am still responsible for my happiness. So we are looking for that.
I got the Desire Map, and started looking at what I want to feel in life. The results I want. And then planning the actions backwards from there.
You know what’s really interesting (if you are me, and hopefully for you too), all our professional goals stayed the same, they streamlined a little, we trimmed off what’s unnecessary and focused on the core desires. But personally, it’s been a revolution. And that is feeding into business more than I would have imagined.
I’m happy (and free), I’m working from asking what do I want to do each day? And then will that get me closer to my Core Desired Feelings? Will it serve the goals I have that move me closer to what I want to feel.
This bit is new to me, bear with me. I am living this experience experiment and will update with reports.
In the mean time:
And get your copy of The Desire Map here.
This blog post is dedicated to everyone staying warm in the snow in Wales right now and to GwentGrit who are doing their best to clear the roads, to keep us all safe and to sing while they do it. Gratitude to you all.