Tyranny of the To-Do List and the Burden of the Undone

I am sure you've seen recent articles on the Internet titled something like How to Get More Done! and Top 5 Productivity Tips!, etc. I must admit I used to read a lot of those kind of articles. I thought there was a magic bullet out there about getting things done. I have learned different strategies from many of the productivity gurus and cobbled together a productive organizational system that, for the most part, works for me. Currently my work life is run by a massive to-do list. I try to capture every idea however fleeting just in case I forget it. This makes for a long to-do list. I may be in need of a new approach.

I'm always philosophically drawn to people like Paul Jarvis and Leo Babauta of Zen Habits who write about having a workflow that is more free-form. No surprise that I find these approaches appealing because even in my art, I walk away from strict rules and move towards free-form expression.

Paul Jarvis is my go-to guy for a reality check. I have subscribed to his newsletters for a long time and purchased all his books. I admire his no-nonsense approach and independent thinking. His writing and podcasts always make me think about why I am doing something and does it make sense for me regardless of what other “experts” may say. His latest newsletter had a link to an interview with him by Cameron McCool of the Bench company blog.  He talked about not having a set daily routine but approaching each day deciding what needs to be done, what is reasonable to get done that day and just doing it. Pure simplicity.  The full interview can be read  HERE.  

Peony in our front yard. # 1 To-Do Item- See the beauty all around you.  Photo credit:  Ian Warren (my son!)

I am also intrigued by people like the Zen Habits blog author Leo Babauta. His idea is to let go of goals and to work on what is most exciting to you at the moment because, realistically, you will be the most productive on things that matter the most to you in this moment. This does seem very wise to me. And I've tested this theory several times. I am still working on it, but it feels good even just thinking this way. His article on this is called, The Best Goal is No Goal and can be read HERE. It will make you think.

This is a level of trusting yourself to know what needs to be done, and do what needs to be done but with a spirit of self-respect and a sense of adventure being in the right place, at the right time, doing the things you care about most. I am all-in for this approach. This summer of 2016, I am going to loosen the grip on the Tyranny of the To-Do List.
A deeper issue of the Tyranny of the To-Do List is this feeling of the Burden of the Undone. Many people, me included, put way too many things on this to-do list. Then when the inevitable happens and we get to the end of the day and have barely scratched the surface of the to-do list, the sadness and the self-judgment comes rushing in. I've tried to put less things on my to-do list. Some people say include no more than three things a day that must get done. Frankly, sometimes I think maybe it should just be one thing. I've played with this idea of saying I just have to get this one thing done. I have found sometimes those days are my most productive because I feel like the rest of the to-do's are just gravy and I want to get it done because it feels good to get it done. Not because I told myself I have to get it done. I guess that means I'm rebelling against myself.

The Tyranny of the To-Do List is a brutal dictatorship. I do not think it is wise of our culture to define our success as a person of value or of no-value based on all the sh** you got done today. What if all the stuff on your-do list really had zero meaning?

What if everything on your to-do list actually made you feel good? What if you trusted yourself to do the important but fun things first because that is what you want to do?

I don't have a lot of answers here in this article. I do know this summer I will try to let go of goals in the traditional sense. I'm learning that the less I tell myself I have to do, the more I actually end up doing.

This understanding has made me come up with my own three phrase mantra. 

Be kind.
Make it fun.
Be grateful. 

In a way, I think these are the only things I really have to be doing every day.

Yes, I do have this mantra as a reoccurring daily to-do item in my productivity app, Things. I use this mantra just as a reminder to keep things in their proper perspective.

I am a free agent who lives in a free state where I can let go of unnecessary burdens and focus on what brings me meaning every day. 

My Water series playlist on Spotify can be found HERE.