If you’re anything like me, you have a to-do list as long as your arm most days.
Yet, it’s so satisfying every time you complete a task. It’s almost addictive how good it feels!
You know—that feeling you get when you clean up a room you’ve been putting off forever, dealing with that pile of laundry which has been sitting there for months to be ironed, or offloading things in your car trunk that have been there to be dealt with for a while. I know I’m not alone.
The hard truth is these jobs are never finished. There’s always something else that could be done, whether it’s responding to emails, weeding in the garden, picking up the kids, cleaning, cooking, medical appointments, grocery shopping, and so the never-ending to-do list goes on.
A while back, I was dog-sitting for my best friend, as she and her family went away for the weekend.
As usual, I planned to get some work done, so I brought my laptop. Unfortunately, however, I forgot my charger. Considering that the computer I was using at the time was a decade old, let’s just say it didn’t take long before it died on me.
So here I was, in a house, looking after my friends’ dog (together with my little pup) with nothing to do. I could have gone out somewhere but didn’t feel like it—I’m a bit of a homebody. It’s at this moment I learned my first lesson about dealing with those pesky to-dos.
Getting out of your space is freeing
The opportunity of not being in your own space can be comforting. Space in this case is somewhere you spend a lot of time, be it your home or workplace.
Your to-do list drastically minimises or completely disappears. You realise just how many triggers there are in your environment screaming “incomplete!”.
So at that point, I considered my situation in another environment without a computer a blessing in disguise.
I embraced the lack of things needing my attention and just sat on the couch. Curled up with me after a nice big walk that morning, the dogs and I watched some good old fashioned TV. And I don’t mean Netflix, YouTube or Cable, just free-to-air midday TV. It was wonderful.
This time to myself made me realise how highly strung I can get. I have a million things racing through my mind, and I’m always adding more.
I finally had the room to reflect on the last few months and how it’s so easy to overcommit and drive yourself to burnout. No one is designed to go go go all the time. No one.
Reminding myself of the importance of “being” really drives the point home. Just be. Be in the now. Don’t worry about what needs to be done in the next hour, tomorrow, or those plans you made for next week, but give what you can to the task at hand.
Go with the flow of the natural seasons
When you think about it, everything that lives needs downtime, including us. It’s interesting how the seasons allow nature to take a break.
As much as we think we’re superhuman, there’s only so much that our bodies can handle. Be gentle. Give yourself permission to slow down once in a while.
Try an experiment and go with the flow of the natural seasons. In Summer, rise earlier and use that energy of the warmer weather, buzzing surroundings and growing season. In Winter, slow it down, go to bed earlier, spend more time reflecting, taking it easy and rejuvenate.
Your to-do list should also change with the seasons to reflect this energy. But make sure you don’t stretch yourself too thin.
Being present sounds so cliche, but it’s so important
I heard a little while ago someone (the name now escapes me) on a podcast say how powerful it is to be present and 100% dedicated to whatever you are doing at that moment. If you’re always thinking about something else, then you’ve missed the opportunity to feel the magic of the present.
When you start enjoying the most mundane tasks that would usually have you reaching for your phone, focus on that task as much as you can and give it all your attention.
For example, if you’re doing the dishes, pay attention to how you’re washing them, how you may have missed the corner of the glass otherwise if you were rushing through the process.
You don’t have to sit down and meditate if you don’t have the time right now, but being 100% present in whatever you are doing is a form of meditation in iteself.
Our to-do lists are endless, but at least the tasks that we’re doing can be enjoyed along the way.
When you give yourself permission to immerse yourself fully in the job, you’ll start to feel like you’re maximising everything you do.
It’s no coincidence that ASMR is taking off on platforms like YouTube. People want to enjoy the simple things and take note of the satisfying sensations that arise.
If you need some extra motivation, check out the video below of Li Ziqi making furniture from scratch out of bamboo.
“I get to” instead of “I have to”
Our never-ending to-do lists are filled with “I have to’s”. As a result, it can sometimes feel like everything on your list is a chore or something urgent.
One thing I’m practising after reading it in James Clear’s newsletter (which I highly recommend) is reframing “I have to” to “I get to”.
Leading with “I get to” gives me an instant perspective on the privilege of whatever I’m doing. For instance, having to cook dinner suddenly feels like a gift to prepare a meal for my loved ones.
What an incredible opportunity. As long as we’re alive, we get to experience everything each day throws at us.
Embrace saying ‘no’ more often
If we don’t take control of that never-ending list, we’ll always feel like someone or something else is owning our time.
Say ‘no’ to some of these tasks, either by handing them over to someone else or simply turning them down.
“Saying ‘yes’ to one thing means saying ‘no’ to another.” – Sean Covey.
Saying ‘no’ can be both paralysing and liberating. With time it will start to feel like the latter.
Just remember to embrace each task at hand, and you’ll feel more satisfaction as time progresses.
Do one thing each day that will move you forward
Our to-dos exist in many different forms across all areas of life, from managing a house renovation, starting a new hobby, or having a tough conversation with a colleague.
We keep our task list in our heads, in emails, in apps, on calendars or in our notebooks.
Everything feels like a priority, and therein lies the trap. Not everything is an equal priority.
One of my favourite books is The One Thing by Gary Keller. It’s about using minimalism or the 80/20 rule to whittle down your tasks to one thing that will move you forward each day.
Let yourself forget about your long list of to-dos for a moment, and instead answer this question;
“What’s the one thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” – Gary Keller
Addressing this question forces you to assess the impact of the things you need to do.
For example, there are many things I need to do today. I could get lost in responding to messages, buying groceries, washing the car etc. But when I take a step back and think about what would move the needle forward for me, my one thing is drafting this article.
So I prioritise writing first, and upon completing my “one thing,” I feel a deep sense of accomplishment, which creates momentum to do the other things on my list for the rest of the day.
When you write your daily to-do list, put your one thing at the top of your list and do that first.
Life is a never-ending to-do list, and how we cope with it is a game-changer
To-dos will never go away. They’ll always be more to do. Always.
However, you can make your experience more enjoyable by applying mindfulness to your tasks, whether that’s getting out of your environment, being in the present, adjusting for the seasons, reframing tasks, saying no, and prioritising the one thing.
I’d love to hear from you now. How do you deal with your seemingly endless list?