My first reaction to a question like that would be sheer terror followed by cold sweat, and the deer-caught-in-the-headlights look on my face.
You see, to-do lists are literally my life. Lists keep me happy. They make me feel organized and encourage me to think that nothing is impossible. Okay, lists run my life and keep me focused.
So why this bizarre thought about scrapping the to-do list?
There’s a zen story that goes like this:
One day, a horse suddenly came galloping down the road. It looked like the man on the horse had to get somewhere really quick.
His friend, who was standing by the roadside, shouted, “Where are you going?”
And the man on the horse shouted back, “I don’t know! Ask the horse!”
Lately, I have been feeling like that man on the horse, rushing from task to task and losing sight of my destination. “Headless chicken” is a phrase that comes to mind.
Do you feel that way sometimes?
See, I am the kind of person who is usually at peace, yet, of late, I find myself unable to avoid that hamster wheel — particularly on days when work piles up. Then it manifests in ways that is quite uncomfortable. Anxiety, stress, the lack of energy — all of it packed into a je-ne-sais-quois feeling (I don’t know what it is feeling)
The day seems filled with to-do lists and one day just merges into another, generously peppered with regrets and . . . fear.
My routine is running on auto-pilot — waking up, showering, cooking, trying to meet deadlines — and when things go awry, I spiral down to that stressful corner. This is where all those feelings of dissatisfaction reside, as they enjoy a cup of coffee with that inner critic committee.
Of course I know I’ll bounce back. I am lucky to have a caring partner who never lets me hear the end of it and forces me to apply the brakes and slow down. Also, I have a readily available list of things to inspire and motivate me, the easiest of these: writing in my gratitude journal.
One thing that always comes to my rescue at these times is stepping back and taking stock. It always helps. We have to do this periodically to see the big picture.
I realize during these times that it is hard to find peace, mainly because I am not even seeking it — but also because I am not in that mental space to enjoy it. How can I, when I sleep way too late and wake up early as usual? I am not allowing my body to heal itself, reset itself. And there are days when I sleep really late and wake up late — something guaranteed to turn the day into a near-disaster. Then I end up spending the day with that big monster, guilt, tucked into a corner of my head, constantly nudging me in the form of a steady headache.
If I continue the present trend I am pretty sure I will head towards a burnout. No fun going there.
So, time to take action.
I resolved to sleep earlier and spend my waking hours more productively.
I had become erratic in my fitness routine — so I remedied that right away.
It was a reminder to be more mindful. Because mindfulness reduces stress by lowering the levels of cortisol — the stress hormone in the blood.
My love for lists actually came to my rescue.
And I decided to make a to-don’t list.
I do practice most of these, but I do need some reminders when I stray away.
Here’s my to-don’t list
Do not . . .
- Be too busy to phone a friend, meet a friend
- Sweat the small stuff — most of the time it won’t matter an hour from now!
- Miss workouts. Non-negotiable!
- Hold a grudge. Absolute no-no
- Get stressed over things I have no control over. D’uh!
- Carry emotional baggage. I am walking that off!
- Postpone fun.
- Hesitate to say no
- Get talked into doing something I don’t want to do
- Delay forgiveness
- Put off doctor’s visits
- Ignore health issues
- Buy stuff I don’t need
- Keep erratic mealtimes
- Hoard — I’m well on the path to decluttering.
It follows from the above that I would have a to-do list, right? Just as with the to-don’t list, I am conscious with this one, too, and have refreshed the tasks that go with each.
I am also doing the following:
- Consciously starting and ending my day listing three things I am grateful for.
- Pausing to recharge. The digital detox works wonders for me. This includes minimal time on social media — on a timer.
- Learning to sit still and enjoy my thoughts, without judgment.
After all, it is best we keep the key to our happiness in our own pockets, yes?
I wrote this post because I was overwhelmed. Now I feel better. I don’t want to speed off on that horse. I prefer the serene company of a playful unicorn.
What about you? Do you sometimes feel like that man on the horse?
What would your To Don’t list look like?
Visit my website for a healthy dose of mindfulness