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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Reasons to Journal

journaling

(This is not a Moleskine journal, it’s an old picture, but it is a Bic pen)

One of my very favourite books is Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster. One of the reasons I think I enjoy it so much is that most of the book is written in the form of letters that Judy Abbott writes to her mysterious benefactor. Now yes, I want a mysterious benefactor myself, but it’s the slightly naughty delight of reading someone else’s mail, of seeing right into Judy’s mind, that’s the thing I love.

Another such book is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, and Welcome to the Working Week by Paul Vitos (written in email rather than letters, with a fair bit more cynicism and swearing). And then there’s always The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.

All of them have this fun feeling of reading over someone’s shoulder, of seeing a new insight through their eyes.

I’ve been getting the same feeling lately through reading back my journal from last year.

I’m not being totally self-indulgent – I’m writing a book about 2017 using my blogs and I thought it would add some interest if you all (dear readers) had some insight into how I was feeling as the year went on. Ok, maybe I am being self-indulgent but I’m getting a lot out of it anyway.

Journalling is important to me. I don’t remember why, but I do remember that in grade 10 I decided to write a journal entry every day. I remember very clearly sitting in bed in the dark at 1am (I shared a room with my sister and couldn’t turn the light on) writing a few lines on a new page knowing that I would not be following the lines, I couldn’t see the lines, but I had to complete my journal entry for that day before I went to sleep.

I tend to follow rules like that. If I’m journalling every day, then I’m journalling every single day. No excuses.

I’m easier on myself now, I don’t make myself write every day, but I write most days because it’s so helpful.

Sheridan Voysey has some tips for journalling. He says that you don’t have to write every day. That you must not let anyone else see what you’re writing – it is just for you (write in code if necessary). That you date each entry (he records the time as well and I’ve started doing that too). That you write freely and honestly. That you keep it simple and that you write anywhere. His podcast on reasons to journal is worth listening to.

Why do I journal?

I mistrust my memory and love to have a record of my life. I think that part of me feels like I’d lose my life if I didn’t write it down.

I find that journalling slows me down enough to know how I’m feeling. I can be running around (either literally, or inside my own head) and stop to journal and write: ‘I don’t know what I’m doing, I don’t know what I’m feeling. Oh boy do I feel tired.’ And then I go nap. Journalling gets me in touch with myself. It helps me to see if the problem I’m experiencing is physical tiredness, or just my own narkiness, or whether I have an issue I need to sort out with someone else. In other words, it stops me snapping at Moz when the issue I need to deal with is my own tiredness.

Journalling stops the hamster wheel of thoughts inside my head. Once it’s written down, it’s written and I can move on. If I leave the thought in my head then it can swirl around and never get dealt with.

And finally, I can look back on my journal and see where I’ve been.

I tell many newlyweds, especially those I know who marry young like Moz and I did, about how comforting it was to read my journal from our first year of marriage. You see, no matter how bad things were in the next few years, it never got as bad as the first year. (Our first year was hard work, but worth it).

And looking back at last year I can see objective evidence that the days were hard and busy but I can also see the record of cosy nights in front of the fire, peaceful walks along the beach, little pockets of peace and joy through the hard times. It gives me strength and encouragement for what I’m walking through now. Which, by the way, is nowhere near as bad as last August.

It doesn’t take much to journal, you don’t need a fancy book or a fancy pen. I have a very fancy Moleskine journal at the moment – a Christmas present from my parents – but I have a motley arrangement of journals on the bookshelf to my left, all colours and sizes that I’ve used through the years.

The pen I use is a Bic biro. Nothing fancy there! But I like the way it writes. But you know, you can use anything. Some people like to use a really fancy pen, a fancy journal, do drawings and so on and make it a special part of their ‘me time’ and others like me just like to get the words down on the page. Whenever and wherever I find myself.

Some people like me keep all their journals. I hope to go through my boxes soon and find the one I wrote in in grade 10. I think it will be interesting to read. Others like my mother-in-law destroy them. That can be really cathartic. A nice journal fire when you’re saying goodbye to some particularly dreadful part of your life could be an excellent symbolic gesture.

Words are my thing, obviously. But I think a lot of us can find joy in journalling.

Do you keep a journal? What have you found best or worst about it? Or have I tempted you to try? Let me know in the comments.