Why I deleted my to-do list, and why it wasn't easy to do.
I am passionate about helping others to live a life they love, a life that they design.
But I must admit, I haven’t been doing this for myself recently. For a while now, I’ve been feeling as though my sole existence was simply to tick things off my to-do list. It was like I had all these things on my to-do list in order to take steps towards having a better life, and yet I was missing out on life altogether.
As soon as I thought of something which needed doing, it would be added to one of my 8 to-do lists! Yes I had 8 to-do lists! One for each of the areas of my life which are important to me (as defined by my Love Life Plan), such as my career, my finances, my friends & family, my health and so on. If I didn’t write it on there it would haunt my mind until I did, because I was paranoid I was going to forget it. If I didn’t have my to–do list to hand, I’d make a memo on my phone so that it could be added later.
I would sit and plan when exactly each thing on my to-do list would get done, assigning dates to them all. Then I would check if it was realistic that I could get all of those things done on that day, and if not, I would assign a different day. Then when things didn’t go according to plan, I’d delete all the dates in frustration, fed up that life didn’t co-operate with my plans! (As it rarely does!) I finally managed to break this cycle by only assigning dates to things that imperatively had to be done on a certain day, such as paying a bill or booking tickets. Once I’d done the days’ urgent tasks, then I was free to choose what I ‘did’ next.
Whilst this helped, I was still left with a feeling that there’s always so much to do [*weary-face emoji*]. Things were being added to my to-do list faster than I could take them off. I was feeling like things were on top of me and I didn’t have time for things I really wanted to do. And worst of all, I felt like I was nothing more than a to-do-list-ticking robot. Every moment of my time (outside of coaching sessions and appointments) was focused on ‘what can I tick off next?’
Things got really bad when I even then created a to-do list of all the things my boyfriend needed to do, because the thought of him not having a list at all was just incomprehensible to me! Not having things written down, whether they were his or mine, caused anxiety for me, so my only way to relieve that anxiety was to ensure everything was down in writing.
Furthermore, one thing that I’ve been working on with my coach is my own personal development. Instead of focusing on ‘how to grow a business’, I realised that my focus should be on ‘how do I become a better coach’, so I’ve been wanting to spend more of my time doing things like reading, attending courses, researching, learning etc., but, I had the classic excuse: “I don’t have time”. My to-do list was more important.
So I had a bit of a wake-up call when a good friend of mine said to me, ‘just delete your to-do list’. The thought HORRIFIED me. I couldn’t possibly imagine doing that. I didn’t understand how one could live without one. Literally.
This revealed to me 3 things:
1) I am not trusting myself to do the things that need to be done by when they need to be done by
2) I am not trusting that I will achieve the things I want to achieve
3) I may be on the spectrum as having obsessive-compulsive personality disorder!
I was reading the diagnosis of OCPD and was able to relate to 4 of the 8 criteria that are synonymous with the condition. You only need 4 to be diagnosed. [Cue several tears and research into therapists.]
But instead of branding myself as ‘having’ this supposed condition and being a victim to it, I decided instead to look at, ‘where am I being disorderly?’
Clearly it was with my organisation and planning.
So I asked myself, ‘How can I be unrecognisable to who I know myself to be? Where can I do the opposite to what I would normally do? And how can I make sure that I am once again living a life I love, one that I design?’
Here’s what I came up with:
- I deleted 6 of my to-do lists. All that now remains is ‘coaching’ and ‘everything else’, and the only things that are on there are very day-specific tasks that I’m unlikely to remember otherwise. Everything else has gone, even the things I know I still need to get done
- I created my perfect morning and evening routine:
o Mornings include exercise, stretching, reading (normally I would only “have time” to read on the tube) and replying to emails
o I no longer arrange any appointments before 12 noon
o Wednesdays are dedicated days for learning and personal development work, again no other appointments are scheduled
o The last 30 minutes before sleep include writing gratitudes, reading The Daily Stoic, and meditation.
And what’s more important is that I’ve replaced my to-do list with an ‘I’ve done’ list. During the day I now jot down every little thing I’ve achieved, and I review it just before bed. So now, instead of seeing all the things I’ve got left to do, I see the 5 or 10 or sometimes more things that I accomplished that day. Today alone I've already got 5 things on my list and I haven't even had lunch yet!
Can you imagine what a difference that will make to your wellbeing, and subsequently your productivity (and subsequently your results), by reflecting daily on your achievements instead of your incompletions? I now feel like a success every single day! (And don’t forget, that 'rest' days are days of success too).
The truth is that you get what you focus on. If you’re always focused on what’s left to be done, you will never ever feel accomplished. Did you know that on the day you die you will have things on your to-do list and unopened emails in your inbox?
Step off the hamster wheel. It never ends.
What’s more, is that YOU can create the rules of your life. You can decide what works for you. I once accepted a job offer only on the condition that they let me start 30 minutes later than the rest of the company so that it gave me time to go to the gym in the morning. Not being able to exercise first thing just didn’t work for me, so it was in THEIR interests to allow it.
You have to put your own oxygen mask on first in order to be able to help others.
You can’t be at your best and give your best when you’re not creating time for the things you love, the things that make you feel good, and the things that shape you into being a happier person. Nor can you achieve success when all you can see is what’s not yet achieved.
So if you’re like [the former] me and always feeling like there’s so much to do that you can’t keep up, here’s my advice:
- Delete your to-do list and create an ‘I’ve done’ list instead. Reflect on it before going to sleep
- Design your day, your week and your month to be as you want them to be, the things that you want to do for yourself, and let everything else fit around that
Because it’s your life. You decide the rules.