My recent return from vacation had me wondering why I ever go on away. I came back to tons of laundry, an avalanche of emails, work hours my now relaxed body was unprepared for, and dirty city air. Not to mention the stress of unnecessary drama I was able to put on hold while away. Worst of all, the dreaded “To-Do” list had morphed into a diabolical monster I could no longer slay.
I became overwhelmed with all the things I had to do. This caused me to get sick. I had nausea and a fever every night for a week. I’m the type of person who can’t seem to find a middle ground. Once things get out of order even a tiny bit, I let them slide into chaos. I either have a place for everything and everything in its place, or I’m shuffling through piles of clutter I can’t seem to tackle. So I used to have a process to help me deal with my task list.
I was once told to write out my to-do list and address one thing at a time. The idea was that I could cross out each item once completed, and that action would cause me great satisfaction. This satisfaction would inspire me to do more and stave off chaos. This worked for a while. The problem was that my to-do list was never empty. While crossing things out was satisfactory, adding on new items or items that repeat (laundry, dishes) became tedious and draining. Depressing.
The problem started to be that I couldn’t look at the list without prioritizing. My priorities were almost always housework and chores. It’s a mindset I can’t seem to ever shake. So even if I did accomplish things like a nice walk or a bit of writing, I felt guilty because I saw all the other items on the list. Eventually, the list was so daunting I couldn’t do anything. Doing nothing felt better than doing the “wrong” thing. However, then guilt and stress would sink in. That’s how my post-vacation week has been; nothing got accomplished.
By the end of the week, I had to admit that those moments of nausea and fever were nothing new. They weren’t just post-vacation problems. This has been going on for a long time. Worse still, they are often preceded by what I can only describe as anxiety attacks. And these horrible moments of stress and illness add to my exhaustion, making my to-do list even more impossible, so the vicious cycle turns.
No more to-do list for me. I have a new plan, and perhaps it will work, and perhaps it will not. The reality is that I don’t need a list to know what tasks need to get done. Emails ding non-stop, clean clothes get sparse, clutter levels rise, and cupboards go bare. I do not need a list.
So instead of a “to-do” list, I create a mental “done list” at the end of the day.
This list can be anything. Did I do anything other than sleep- great, it goes on the list. Got dressed? It’s on the list. Ate breakfast? It’s on the list. I can’t look at a to-do list and feel good about the few things I’ve done when there are still so many things on that list. My done list makes me feel better. I may need to clean and grocery shop but decide to do gardening and writing instead. I may have goals that get blindsided by a random task or a time-sensitive emergency. Instead of seeing these as excuses for my incomplete “to-do” list, they now go on my “done” list. I can go to bed at night satisfied that I accomplished something instead of thinking about the rest of the items on an impossible to-do list.
It may seem like I’ve set a very low bar for myself, but you know what? It’s better than doing nothing. It’s better than stress, anxiety, guilt, headaches, sickness, and worry. My least favorite thing to say is “I have to” or “I should have”.
It’s no longer about what I still need to do; it’s about what I’ve done. Very similar to thinking about all I am grateful for, all I have, rather than thinking about the things I lack or may wish I had.
It’s a mindset, and I hope it works. While I was drafting this blog, I stopped to feed the birds, and I stopped to take a phone call planning a get-together. Tonight when my mind tries to rattle off things from a “to-do” list, I’ll fight back with my “done” list, and these will most certainly be counted.