I’ve long since given up the idea that one day I’ll have everything done. I guess if that were the case the only thing left to do would be to die. Since I’m not ready to exit stage left yet, I’ve been assessing what would actually just feel like a little bit of peace from the daily to-do list that seems to stalk me.
When I’m not worrying about all the things that I have to do, I’m worrying about the things I’m going to forget to do. So making lists is hugely soothing for me. Just feeling like I have everything down on paper gives me peace. At least for a few moments. This is how I start most mornings. There’s nothing like a clean sheet of yellow legal paper, my favorite pen, and a list. While I drink my coffee I plan my day. Everything feels right with the world.
And then life starts. One of the kids forgets a homework assignment and we’re scrambling to do it before we leave. Or the morning farm chores take longer than expected because one of the animals needs more attention than normal. Or halfway to school I realize that I’ll need to go to Target on the way home because my son requires jeans for his school musical the next night (the one I’ve totally forgotten about because it’s not even on my calendar). Basically, life intercedes and I start to panic. How will I get the things on my list accomplished today if I have all these unexpected distractions?
Lately I’ve been noticing two things about my lists. First, they’re really long. I mean, having a mind dump is awesome, but there has to be a little bit of reality as well. There’s no possible way to do ALL the things on that list in one day. Try telling that to my brain though! The second thing I’ve been noticing has taken me a little off guard. It’s the small thrum of insufficiency and unworthiness that runs through my veins all day when I look at my list. See, I know when I make that list that there is no way I’m going to get it all done. And so I start to judge myself. All. Day. Long. And the more I judge, the more scattered I get. The further from my list I deviate. Somedays, the judgement and guilt feel almost incapacitating. On those days I make no progress on my list. Yet everyday when I make my list, I tell myself that today will be different: I’ll be better. More committed. Work harder. Try more. It reeks of defeat even from the get-go.
This morning I made my list just like normal. But I tried a new practice. I chose three things that I promised myself I would do. They weren’t even three big things. I wanted to do some yoga, ride my horse, and write this blog post. I could feel the arguments arising internally. What a joke! You’ll never get anywhere with that pathetic list. How will you ever get all these other things done if you only choose to do three things a day. You’re better than this!
But there was also peace. When I found myself floundering a bit this morning, not sure what to do next, my brain immediately said: Yoga. Remember. You committed to Yoga today. Ah OK, I thought, I can do that. Because when the list is 100 items long and I’m floundering I often can’t even remember what I put on it or why. While hitting my three main goals (well, almost, I’m still writing this post) I’ve done a few other things on the list too: laundry, cooking dinner, cleaning my room. But the day can be a success even if I don’t do these additional things. Just as long as I do the three I committed to.
I’ll be honest here. I’m uneasy with this whole arrangement. Today has had snatches of peace and moments of panic. Yet there’s something in my core that says I need to stick with this for a few weeks and see what happens. Will my household implode? Will my career tank? Will I never do anything productive again? I’m not sure and it’s deeply unsettling. Yet, I’m also at a place in my life where I can see the BIG PICTURE: the to-do list will never be done. The tasks will never be all accomplished. And if they were, more than likely, I’d be bored in two minutes flat. What matters now is creating a sustainable practice to keep moving myself forward. Just one thing at a time.
Over on our Facebook page we run a monthly project called “Plant One Seed”. We choose a topic and we spend a month focusing on just that one thing. This month’s topic is Perfectionism, and this post is my interpretation of where perfectionism is ruining my life. Come join us and work on your own issues with perfectionism (we know you have them) and follow along as we work through ours!
Susan McCusker is the co-founder of The Circle Up Experience. She and her partner, Beth Killough, offer people the opportunity to interact with horses in order to learn more about themselves, reconnect with the natural elements of leadership, and transform their human herds.