Return of the Freedom is Tyranny of the To Do List

At one point, a couple of weeks ago, I had written “make to do list” in the margins of a legal pad I was using to take notes at a faculty meeting.  Later that day, I sat down to make said list and when I was done, I saw that I had filled out the entire front of the first page as well as some of the back.  When I finished, I sat back, overwhelmed by everything I had to do.

To do lists are, after all, supposed to help organize things when you’ve got a lot going on, but this was a mountain of tasks that, in addition to the things I do on an everyday basis, seemed almost insurmountable.  It also followed a pattern that has been in my life since I was a kid:  a long list of tasks to do that never really gets completed.  I mean, my room as a teenager was piles of assorted paper spread all over that were full of unfinished projects that I had abandoned because I somehow got interrupted.  To this day, I am pretty sure that I have had some form of ADD or ADHD since I was younger but was never diagnosed, and those teenaged piles are one of many symptoms that went ignored because I was simply a sloppy teenage boy.

I also have issues with saying no when someone asks me to do something.  I’ll often take on too much at work or commit to too many things, as if I am “collecting” tasks.  Which really makes sense when you think of it. Just like I collected comics for years and there were many I didn’t read, I thought of things that I felt needed to get done and put them on top of a mental pile.  The to-do list, as a result, was my way of “uncollecting” those tasks.  But what to do when it hit critical mass and I was ready to throw in the towel (or at least throw it in the trash)?

Enter my organizer.

I returned to a physical, paper datebook/organizer last year when I found myself getting lazy in checking my phone’s calendar and that meant that I was running around at the last minute way more than previously.  So, I went on Amazon and ordered one of those datebooks with a nice bound cover, bookmarking ribbons, and stickers (always need the stickers), and while it did help for a while, I found myself slipping back into the old habits of trying to work off the top of my head and then compiling these lists.  When this latest bout of “How am I going to finish all of this” happened, I decided that I had to do something about it and stumbled upon what was pretty much the most obvious solution, one that had me wondering aloud why I hadn’t thought of it a long time ago.  I parsed the to-do list over several days, checking the completed tasks off as I finished them.

Again, it’s so easy, I can’t believe I didn’t think of it sooner.  And I not only went through the items on the list, but I also committed to not trying to “get ahead” on each day’s list by taking on something for the following day and also decided that if I fall behind, I would not feel pressure to finish that stuff up first (unless it was really time-sensitive) but also would make sure that I finished everything by the end of the week.

Two weeks in and this has worked well, alleviating some of the anxiety I had been feeling lately and hopefully helping me feel less burned out (which had been happening).  It’s made me look forward to the next few weeks and months, as I know that I can make sure that work is not going to overwhelm me and I can actually enjoy each day.

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