Screw You, To-Do List

by Rita Templeton
Originally Published: 
to-do list
PeopleImages / iStock

I wake up every morning with the same goal in mind: total domination of my to-do list.

I’m gonna finish the SHIT outta some business today, I tell myself. I’m going to be productive. I’m going to feel so awesome about it. I’m going to get things done in a major way.

But I also said I was giving up sugar, and you can probably guess how that turned out.

Some days are better than others. Some days, I do make a major dent in the ever-growing roster of “all the things.” But most days, come evening, there I am — staring at the clean laundry wrinkling in the basket for the third day in a row, thinking about phone calls I should have made, berating myself for not cleaning the toilet…again (and hoping company doesn’t use that bathroom until I get around to it).

We make to-do lists to keep track of the things we need to take care of because there are far too many for any normal human mind to successfully catalogue. Lists are not bad in and of themselves; they help us stay organized. And yes, there are certain things that have to be finished within a specific timeframe (like that preschool registration paperwork I keep forgetting to turn in…be right back).

But it’s the invisible deadlines we tack onto each item — no matter how small — that do us in. It’s the pressure we attach to get everything done. It’s a perpetual race against a clock that always seems to be ticking a little too quickly.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Sure, we’d like to get the laundry folded and put away promptly, but if we don’t, no one is going to suffer. No opportunities are going to be missed, no big chances were blown because someone had to grab a clean shirt from the basket instead of the drawer. I mean, what are a few wrinkles compared to the mental anguish we would save by not giving a shit about the stuff that’s not all that important?

Imaginary deadlines are only a part of why we need to cut ourselves some serious slack where our to-do lists are concerned. Just think about how many things we do that don’t even make the list. I have never written down “spend 20 minutes removing gum from carpet” or “clean up dog barf” or even the more predictable stuff like “do the dishes” and “change the sheets.” Our lists, if they accurately reflected all the things we actually do, would be exponentially longer…and we’d have many more things checked off.

But somehow, we don’t count those invisible unwritten tasks on which we spend hours of each day toiling, only the things that are there in black and white. And heaven forbid there should be anything left without a checkmark beside it. Instead of celebrating all that we did accomplish, we criticize ourselves for not doing enough — and then we feel beaten down, and have no energy to do anything at all.

You know why sports teams have cheerleaders and pep rallies? It’s because if the stands were full of people booing and discouraging — if the negative voices drowned out the positive ones — the team would suffer. I don’t know why we, as individuals, should be any different.

How much can we reasonably expect of ourselves when we are our own worst critics? If our bosses or our spouses or our best friends talked to us using the same words that echo our internal monologues, we’d be appalled. They’d be abusive. If we wouldn’t tolerate that kind of undue scrutiny from anyone else, why should we accept it from our own minds?

Even if we don’t get as much done as we had hoped, we still need to pat ourselves on the back as congratulations for the small accomplishments — and, if necessary, set a goal to do better tomorrow. And that will be a whole hell of a lot easier when we’re not laboring under the self-imposed burden of trying to overachieve.

We do plenty. And if you’re still not sure, do literally nothing for a couple of days and watch how fast the household crumbles around you.

Repeat after me: Screw you, to-do list. I’ll get to whatever I get to.

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