Letting Go of To-Do


People are obsessed with productivity. We feel a huge need to GET SHIT DONE every day, making to-do lists and feeling unfulfilled if we don’t learn something new every day, or make some progress towards our life goals. I know that this is something I feel pretty regularly.

Currently I am running two jobs, trying to write a novel, learn Spanish, keep this blog going, find and write for anywhere that will have me, reading a lot, trotting off here and there and having a social life. This may or may not be a lot of to-do, but whether or not this is an overwhelming amount, I was definitely winding myself up over getting it done.

This came to a head last weekend when I realised quite how stressed I was making myself over whether or not I ‘achieved’ something each day. If life got in the way of me doing half an hour of Spanish, writing another thousand words or reading the next chapter in the time I had allotted then I got angry, worried and upset.

This is my first year out of education and external deadlines in eighteen years, and I have been worried that I will sink into a malaise and not get anything done, other than going to work and making the money I need to travel. I want to be able to look back on this year and say ‘This is the year when I learned Spanish/got published/started my website’ rather than ‘This is the year when I worked a lot and didn’t do much else but hang out with my friends’.

Last weekend I wasn’t able to do anything I had planned and this stressed me out immeasurably, panic attack style. This was enough to make me stop, and slow down.

Everything I’m trying to do this year, I am doing because I enjoy it and want to do it. There is absolutely no reason to have a panic attack over a weekend sans learning. The most important thing I should be able to look back and say is ‘That’s the year I had a really great time in Canterbury’ no matter what ‘achievements’ I manage. So, I am letting go of ‘to-do’.

Every so often I remind myself that we will naturally gravitate towards doing that which we love. I really want to learn Spanish and get this novel finished and keep this blog going and go travelling, and so those are things I will and have naturally gravitated towards doing.

I don’t necessarily do each one every single day, or even every other day, but at the moment I’m quite lucky in not having any pressing deadlines. Rather than look forward and worry that I will get distracted and won’t do what I ‘need’ to do, it’s important to look back as well, especially to realise that I have been doing these things regularly and will most likely continue to do so.

I could burn myself out, sacrifice my social life and work hard this year to reach all my goals. If the spirit takes me, I might go hermit and do that for a while. Looking at where I’m naturally gravitating at the moment, I just don’t want to put that much time into it. I’m enjoying going out with my friends and being around people. Beating myself up about not getting enough done isn’t going to change the past.

One can go two ways with becoming frustrated with how much one is or isn’t doing. Either accept that you just don’t want to put the time in right now and have fun instead of chaining yourself to your desk and sweating blood, or use your frustration and channel it into your work. After all, you’re frustrated with not working enough, so if you’re that upset, then just do it!

If you’re avoiding a task constantly and consistently though, perhaps it’s time to have a double-check whether it is something you actually want to be doing. Does it inspire you? When you think of doing it do you feel a buzz of excitement, fear or despair? Has it been undone on your to-do list for more than three months? If you haven’t got around to it in three months, it’s probably more like something you think you ought to do rather than something you actually want to. This can be anything, even something awesome fun like learning to juggle clubs. (I say awesome fun, it’s also really difficult and off-putting. I will do it though…one day.)

And so! I plan to live a more fluid life, doing things as I want to rather than because I feel I ought to, and hopefully that will lead to a calmer attitude to To-Do. However, I have noticed a pattern emerge which seems to revolve around my doing days as I want to and not using my planner, starting to use my planner more and trying to schedule in hobbies, then listing everything I need to do in a day (or feel I need to do) before I implode again and decide to live by doing what I want not what I feel I ought…so perhaps I’ll be writing on this topic in another month! I think every time the cycle cycles I learn something more though, so we’ll see how long it sticks for this time.

How do you feel about To-Do and the cult of Productivity?



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