Lately I have been reflecting on my to do list, and the fact that it never ends. For every item I cross off, there seems to be two items that take its place. Each day I work to finish the list, but each night there are still items leftover, waiting for the next day to start again. As a goal-oriented person, having items left is like failing to accomplish my goal.
I want to feel the satisfaction of completing my work, finishing my tasks, knowing that at least for today, the job is done. The problem is, my job is never done, the list is never completely finished, and there is always more to do. This has been a source of nearly constant frustration for me. Slowly I am coming to see reality: my to do list will never be done. If that is my goal, it will always end in failure. If my focus is on the finish line, I will only get more frustrated.
So I am learning to make peace with my “to do” list. I am always looking for ways to be more productive, but now I know that greater productivity is still not enough to complete everything I have to do. Between my workload, my projects, my kids, and my community activities, there is always more, so my measuring stick has to change from “done” to “enough.” This takes quite an adjustment for me.
Since I thrive on completion, check marks to show what’s done, looking at a list that is merely “in progress” makes me uncomfortable, to put it mildly. Yet, this is exactly the place I need to find peace. I live in this place of progress, but the finish line is always beyond me.
Here’s how I’m making peace with my to do list.
First, I’m making my list longer, so it includes more than a day’s worth of items. This helps me remember that each area of my work and life is ongoing. There is no tidy little check mark that can show my parenting is finished for the day, or my projects are all completed with nothing else waiting in my work queue. Knowing there is always more helps me focus on steady progress instead of total completion.
Second, some things just have to get done at a certain time or by a specific due date. These items get scheduled into the day and take priority over other items. I often create unnecessary stress by trying to get tasks finished before they are due. While I would always work ahead in a perfect world, sometimes I just need to recognize the difference between what I would like to have finished and what absolutely has to be finished.
Third, I like it best when tasks can be quantified, that is, clearly counted. But many tasks aren’t like this. For instance, quality time with my kids is not about punching a time clock that says, “Now you’ve spent enough time with them.” Adding margin to my life, doing activities for personal growth, and quality time with family and friends are just a few of the items that can’t be quantified. While it is easy to check off a phone call or email, it is less clear to say when I have read enough, put enough time into a relationship, or invested enough planning into a new project.
Finally, I remember that tomorrow is a new day with fresh energy, fresh perspective, and fresh opportunities to make progress. At the end of the day, when I review what I accomplished and what is still left to do, I look forward to the morning with anticipation. This requires me to set aside my “to do” list for the night (instead of staying up late to get one or two more things done), and get the rest I need to start fresh the next day.
Please share your thoughts by commenting below! What does your “to do” list look like? How do you make peace with the tasks that need your attention?