When a To Do List is the Worst Thing To Do

doing your best

I got up on that awful Monday morning, got dressed and ready to go, and sat at my desk to begin my day’s work.

First, I wrote out a list of things that I needed to accomplish in the week. I usually write that in my bullet journal. I write about the projects I’m focussing on and the tasks that need to be accomplished. So the list has things like:

Write DM3 (that’s the latest novel in the Deadly Miss series that I try to write something in each day – that’s one of the project-type tasks)

and

Book car in for a service (a task that doesn’t really relate to any special project)

Then I turned to my day planner. This has the day divided into hours and I can plan my day with it, using the tasks I’ve written in my bullet journal. Having the time allocated to certain projects or tasks usually helps me to work when I need to, and to not put too many tasks into any one day.

Usually it helps me to get my work done.

Usually.

On this particular Monday morning, I finished my list in my daily planner, looked at the day and the week, and realised that I wouldn’t get it all done. Again.

I had been through many weeks like this, where there were just too many tasks for the time available. And here was another one. And I couldn’t see how the work could get done.

I couldn’t handle it.

I went to bed and cried for half an hour.

Sometimes lists are a really good idea.

Sometimes crossing the tasks off makes you feel so productive and useful.

But sometimes the list just shows up how much you’re not getting done. How far you still have to go. How overwhelming life is right now.

Sometimes a to do list is (gasp!) a bad idea.

I got out of bed eventually, and I made it through the day and through the week. But for that week I ignored the daily planner, and just worked off the list of tasks and projects in the bullet journal.

That is, I sat at my desk, knowing that I had half an hour or two hours or whatever, I looked at my lists of tasks, evaluated whether I should be doing a thinking or non-thinking task, and just had a go at whatever took my fancy.

And I got through the week. I got heaps achieved. I felt great about it.

I didn’t knock everything off my list, but for that week I went easy on myself. If I achieved anything I gave myself high praise. If I missed things, I didn’t let myself worry about it. The aim was to get through the week with my mental health intact, not to get everything done.

This week’s podcast interview is with Amber. Amber suffers from a couple of fairly severe mental illnesses and she shares with us how we can help those we know who are mentally ill. But talking with her also made me think about each of us, and how we can help ourselves stay mentally healthy.

In the same way that we eat healthy food and exercise to keep our bodies healthy, each of us can also do things that help our own mental health to stay tip top. (And, of course, in the same way that we go and see a doctor when our physical health is breaking down, any of us may, at some time, need to see a specialist about our mental health.)

Sometimes the thing we need to do is give ourselves a break, like I had to do in the ‘no to-do list’ week. Sometimes we need to put down our phones and have a break from social media for a while.

I also think it’s important to think about what we’re putting into our brains. The Good Book says, ‘whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable –  if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.’ (Philippians 4:8) We can help ourselves to stay mentally healthy by reading good books, watching uplifting shows, talking about positive things.

What do you do to take care of your mental health? Have you had to give yourself a break at one time or another? Have you found that sometimes to do lists don’t work? What excellent or praiseworthy thing do you like to think about?

 

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