13 Apr How to Stop Stressing About Your To-Do List
When I was a kid, I can remember sitting in the backseat of our green station wagon, staring out the window as we drove the four hours down I-75 from the thumb of Michigan to Fremont, Ohio to visit my grandparents. It was the 1980s–no cell phones, no portable streaming devices. Thus I was stuck with the most popular in-car entertainment for kids of the era–staring out the window and thinking about stuff.
I remember watching all the other cars go by. Sometimes we passed them and sometimes they passed us. Some were going our way. Some the opposite way. And I remember being struck by this incredible thought….
We will never know all of them.
There were so many cars, so many people, all headed to their own destinations–perhaps to work or other obligations, to appointments, or to see people they loved. My young mind struggled to grasp that all these people were headed somewhere, just like us, and their “somewhere” was just as important to them as ours was to us.
And to blow my young mind even further, I realized that to them, we were just another car headed down 75, a station wagon of nameless, unknowable people, a passing blur on their own journey to wherever they were going. They hardly gave us a second thought as they switched lanes or signalled for their exit.
This thought amazed and slightly disturbed me. And when I stop to think about it now, it has the same effect.
Because it points to a great truth–our collective smallness and insignificance, the sheer vastness of the world, but within all of that–the power of each individual’s purpose and meaning. Our little green car was headed somewhere, dammit. And to us, that somewhere mattered.
I thought about this last night as I made my schedule for today. I do this most nights, before I go to sleep. I consult my calendar, my to-do lists, my brain, and I make a list of “must-do’s” and “want-to-do’s.” I try to block them out in time blocks, often using separate colors. I put stars or double-stars by the really important ones. This–or a variation of it–is a very typical activity for many people.
And I often encounter a frustrating pattern when I do this…
There just isn’t enough time to do all the things I want to do.
Because I want to wake up early and meditate. I want to exercise. I want to schedule social media for my business. I want to reach out to past clients and see how they’re doing. I want to attend the scheduled Zoom calls on my calendar. I want to make healthy meals for my family and spend time with them. And I want to work on this blog post.
All of these wants, all of these to-do desires, rush through the pencil in my hand, jostling for their spot on my paper. And I’m often frustrated that there simply isn’t room for all of them. This often makes me feel anxious or defeated. Unproductive. Like a bit of a failure.
Somewhere, isn’t someone getting all of the things done? Somewhere, isn’t someone managing everything? And why can’t I seem to do it?
This has been especially surprising to me during COVID-19. Despite the horrific news and general feelings of anxiety we’re all experiencing, I thought this pandemic–with its social distancing and forced stay-at-home orders–would give me the one thing I’ve always wanted more of... time. I’d finally get caught up. Despite its drawbacks, the Great Pause would create the exact space I needed to feel like everything is finally, once and for all, crossed off The List.
Cue my dismay when this did NOT happen.
But then I thought of those I-75 trips of my childhood and all the passing cars, all going somewhere, and I realized another truth:
We can only go one place at a time.
We were on the highway, headed to my grandmother’s house. Along the way, we passed thousands of other possible destinations, but that day, at that time, we could only go to one place. Sure, we could’ve worked ourselves up, fretting about all the exits we didn’t take, all the cars that were taking those exits, and the possible places and people they could have been experiencing. We could have dwelt on that and chastised ourselves for our inability to pack more into our trip.
Or we could’ve done what I usually did–sit back, stare out the window, and enjoy the ride to the most important place we were headed that day–grandma’s house.
So when I think about my to-do list, today or any day, I think about those car rides. We’re all on the road, we’re all headed somewhere, doing something. And if we can take a moment to pull our eyes off our lists, look up at the sky or out the window and just take it all in, maybe we’ll actually enjoy the ride, pleasurably anticipate where we’re headed that day–one tiny purposeful car among billions–instead of anxiously fretting about where we’re not.
So today, I’ll do one thing. One at a time. And when I find myself worrying that it’s not enough, that I’m some type of failure for not managing to do more, I’ll try to remember those car rides of my childhood. I’ll put myself back in that metaphorical backseat, staring out the window, relaxing into the road I’m traveling today.
Sure, I’m just one car out of billions, but I’m my car. This is my journey. The only one I get to take. And I can choose to relax into it or not. And today, dammit, I want to enjoy the ride.
Cheers to less worrying about what you’re NOT doing and more loving what you ARE…
PS Want to simplify not just your to-do lists, but also your closets? Get my FREE Simplicity Starter Guide and let’s get going!