With Only 12 Weeks Left in 2020, Why Not Try a Different Approach?
When I was in college, and he was in high school, my baby brother was in a terrible car accident. He sustained a severe head injury and was in a coma for weeks.
When he regained consciousness, he had to start over: physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and so on. His recovery has been remarkable, but one of the unexpected details I remember about the process was how he struggled with making lists.
A smart kid, with an impressive memory, he was really angry about having to write everything down. At first, I wondered what the big deal was. While it was true, he was the one that our other brother and I would go to for the details of our childhood — Hey Mattie, remember that event? Who else was there? What year was that? Do you remember her name? — it didn’t seem like such a major inconvenience, all things considered.
In fact, it felt like an inevitable aspect of adulting. Eventually, we all reach the tipping point at which we have a running to-do list, which becomes unwieldy and unmanageable. As we cross off some things, even more sprout up, our lives become increasingly complex; our lists expand indefinitely, then we die.
Ok, that was a little morbid, but you know what I mean. That’s the world we live in, heavily scheduled, a massive to-do list with a multi-step process for accomplishing the projects of our jobs, lives, families, education, etc.
We make lists for things we need to order, research, prep for, schedule, and so on. It’s a lot, but it’s just how it goes. But for my little brother, who was 17 and didn’t previously need lists, it wasn’t just a new habit, a new practice, or a new hack, it was an identity shift.
How do you process your many roles and many activities? Do you make lists? Schedule appointments and reminders in a shared family calendar? Do you record voice memos or time block? Do you have an app for that? Is your busyness a badge of honor? Part of your identity? Are you comfortable when you are quiet and still?
To be an American adult, particularly a modern mother, is to have too much on your plate, and to be managing so many details that you need a list, an app, a shared family calendar, and a system for facilitating it all, for maximizing productivity, and staying on target.
Consider the wishlist instead.
Amazon started the trend, and Alexa made it easier; the wishlist is a registry of sorts. When you see something you like, remember something you need to order, or anticipate an upcoming occasion, you simply add the supplies or ingredients to your list. It will be notated on your account or put in your cart and available for purchase next time you logon. If you are a subscribe and save member, it will automatically show up at your house.
It’s ultra-convenient, and it works because it takes an abstract idea and makes it tangible. It moves from possible to probable, from cart to home, from nice-to-have to done. That’s why to-do lists work too, because they outline the steps, create a path to make it happen, invite the subconscious to collaborate, and they free up brain space. Imagine if accomplishments were as easy as purchases.
But, over the years, to-do lists have become less effective because we dropped the expectation of completing our list — it never ends. Whether there is a deadline attached to a project or assignment or not, only a handful of things can’t be rescheduled or extended. Admit it, you have no expectation that you will ever complete your entire list.
So, what if instead of to-do lists, we built wishlists for our lives? Not bucket lists, not someday lists, not vague, dreamy Pinterest boards, but to-do lists that reflected our values and our intentions.
Instead of capturing all of the things we have to do, our obligations, deadlines, and responsibilities, what if we reframed our tasks in terms of what we want to do, what we want to have, how we want to live, and what we get the privilege to do?
The thing that is missing from most of our lists is consciousness. Sometimes I ask the mamas I coach why they keep a specific line item on their list, especially if it carries over from list to list, week to week, year to year, or gives them anxiety just to think about it.
Clearly, they don’t want to do it, they de-prioritize it again and again, but they don’t cross it off either. They don’t delegate it or eliminate it, but they never truly make a plan to accomplish it either, so I encourage them to let it go. You think it would be instantaneously freeing, but it’s rarely that simple. They’ve grown attached — it’s an identity thing, like it was for Matt.
But good moms, good daughters, good wives, good bosses, good Christians, good dog owners, good homeowners, responsible women do that! I have to because…
No, you don’t. That’s the beauty of being an adult and choosing — It allows you to let go of shoulds.
Shoulds are what stands between you and balance.
Balance isn’t productivity hacks, morning routines, and consistency —ok, it is, because those things work — but it’s so much more than just strategies. Balance is more than what you do, how much you accomplish, the desire and practice of being prolific.
Balance isn’t squeezing in more things faster so you can fit in rest, recovery, or vacations. Balance isn’t less work, more life. It’s not one thing at the expense of something else, and it’s not a trade-off.
Balance is choosing what is sustainably good for you, living life in the zone, and being your best self, so really good things can happen, and compound, all the time. It’s the art of living well.
Balance is feeling full, whole, complete, and sated, so you enhance every relationship, contribute to every conversation, make every engagement better. And not in an obligatory aspiring way, but in a my cup is so full and I’m so sure of my footing, I’m not likely to falter, but if I do, only good spills out. No matter what comes, what’s on my list, or who I am, I bring sunshine and goodness to every equation.
So, if you want to give it a try, your homework for this week is as follows:
Turn your to-do list into a wishlist in three easy steps.
- Eliminate 1–3 line items on your to-do list that you’re never going to do. Be honest with yourself. Instead of feeling like a failure or feeling guilty about it, see it as a win. It’s a way to clear your mind, calendar, and list for something better, something higher return, more meaningful, something that serves you more or creates free time. Imagine that: Open, unfettered, free time. Do something amazing with that time, or not. Maybe just luxuriate in having nothing to do.
- Prioritize what’s on your list from a place of personal preference, not urgent or habitual reasons, or because someone else wants it on your list. Put it on your list because it moves you closer to who you want to be or the future you want to create, and if it doesn’t contribute to where you are going, yep, cross it off, or rethink it. Ask yourself why you are attached and consider if you believe it anymore. Burn the list that is holding you back. Start from scratch if you must.
- Reframe the exercise of creating the list as an exercise in gratitude. Ask yourself, what opportunities do I have? What blessings? What invitations? What high-vibe, kickass, next-level activities will take me to where I’m going faster? How can I spread love, be sunshine, and make the world better by bringing more goodness and generosity to the equation? Make a wishlist that captures what you want to put out in the world and what you want to bring forth in your life and use gratitude as the foundation of your new list.