YOU know the drill: you wake up, and seconds later, the invisible screen in your mind flickers to life and (like a Windows 3.1 boot menu), starts scrolling the litany of things we need to get done today – the dreaded-or-loved-but-never-ignored-for-long “to-do list”. It seems that every day we are waking up to dozens of things that are waiting for us and need our urgent and pressing attention, and for the most part we assiduously go about doing our tasks and checking them off our list. Yet, so many times when the day is done we have this sinking feeling that we barely dented the surface. The to-do list, if we dare think about it or look at it again, seems as long and daunting as ever, a mocking hydra that replaced every task chopped off the list with two more, making the whole exercise one in futility and frustration.
You, my friend, are truly lost in the weeds.
The issue is all too familiar: we often mistake activity for accomplishment. And if we are fortunate to have actually realized that and transcend that basic hurdle, we mistake our accomplishments for something that actually matters.
When we are busy just *doing* we rarely have time to stop and think about the big w: WHY ? Why are we doing this ? Is it really necessary, and what would happen if we did not do it ? Our to-do lists are often a direct output of all the things we need to get done, and as anyone who makes or works these lists knows (present company included) the lists are skewed heavily towards planning, and ultimately doing, what is needed to “get the alien off your face”. We tend to do what absolutely cannot wait another day – the “right here right now”- the urgent, but not necessarily the important. If you peruse literature in time management (assuming you are already managing your time at least well enough to tuck in some reading :-)) there is a definite theme that you will notice: prioritizing your goals, making sub-goals and eventually tasks that help you reach those goals. This works great except for one small problem: human nature. At the end of the day, we are creatures of comfort. If we don’t have to do something, we will not do it unless it threatens to kill us, or provides some form of instant gratification. And so our lists keep getting longer and longer, until we either stress under the weight of our undone obligations or simply throw our hands up and start all over again (clean slates are always appealing – whether ink on paper, tap-tapping on the screen, or even scratching chalk on, well, a slate!).
The solution lies not in making more elaborate, elegant lists, but simply in having a smaller list. And the only way to have a smaller list is to truly figure out what matters most, and focus on that rather than on the hundreds of things that will always be waiting to get done (remember, (human) nature too abhors a vacuum).
We have all heard the expressions before: can’t see the forest for the trees, missing the big picture”, etc. Maybe the *only* item on your to-do list tomorrow should be to thrash your way out of the weeds to climb on top of the trees and see the picture of the forest. (Ok, maybe first you learn to ignore mixed metaphors) but see if you can truly liberate yourself from the tyranny of the to-do list, and focus your attention on just being. Figure out what is truly important, and spend most of your effort and energy into what matters. A busy life is not necessarily a fulfilling one – living in the simple but deep awareness and appreciation of this day, this moment, can be far more satisfying-if you allow yourself.
Put your to-do list on a diet: have fewer things on your list, but do more things that matter to you. And if you are honest with yourself, you may just find that most of the things that really matter will be difficult to put on a list.
If you can do that, you will truly see what is beyond those weeds…