The Unto Do List

So many people make to-do lists; you probably do, too. And when your experience is that your list really helps to keep you moving in the direction that you want to go and leaves you satisfied at the end of the day, then, by all means, keep it up. But if you sometimes find yourself stuck, or burdened and beaten-up by your list, you might want to change it up a bit and try an un-to-do list.

Instead of a long list of “shoulds,” that can feel daunting and discouraging on a bad day, give yourself a fresh sheet of paper and start listing what you are doing as you do it. Sometimes, as needed, it is okay to let those chunks be pretty small. If you got up, got dressed, took care of the dog, got something to eat, and then started your work day, maybe you should jot it down. If you then dealt with some phone calls, some emails, and a few pieces of paper mail, maybe that should get noted as well. None of those things would ever be likely to end up on your to-do list, but they are necessary and important, and they take time and energy. They count. The un-to-do list acknowledges the fact that much of what we do with our time is routine. It recognizes that much of our effort is spent working on things, not necessarily finishing them. Good process counts too. The un-to-do list also credits the unplanned but significant time spent in teachable moments with our children, taking outreach calls from friends and family, or having a real conversation with our spouse. These might be the most meaningful things we accomplish in a day.

An un-to-do list makes a great companion to your to-do list. It moves that to-do list into the position of being a resource and a reminder rather than the boss. The un-to-do list is where life is really happening. And it is surprisingly encouraging to see that you are doing things. It makes most people feel effective and that they want to and can do more. It is a lot more gratifying to write items down and see your list of accomplishments growing than to occasionally get to cross an item off of list that grows faster than it can be pared down. It re-orients the focus to the positive, to what is being created, rather than to what has failed to happen, and that is energizing. Give it a try.

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