Leaving the to-do-list unfinished
I woke up this morning in a state of confusion. My mind rattled at the thought of to-do-items pending, even before the day had started. As I began writing them down, new items appeared. By the time I finished, there were already three extra chores on the list. As I write this blog at the end of the day, two items remain pending, waiting to be struck out by the stroke of accomplishment.
Which makes me wonder, what is the reason behind wanting to finish off all the tasks of the day? It’s a short spell of victory that will be overtaken with a new list tomorrow morning. Interestingly, rather than the checked-off items, the unchecked ones are the constants in my life. They are always there, staring at me, wishing to be written off.
The answer does not lie in finding the glass half empty, or half full, but in enjoying its existence in the first place. If the glass exists, you exist. If the water in the glass exists, opportunity to grow in life exists.
There is a general feeling of gratification that emerges from finishing what we hope to achieve with the day. But for most of us, each day comes with unresolved emotions, sudden work deliverables, emergencies, or procrastination. To expect ourselves to deliver in the same order everyday, is choosing to become a merciless slave-owner of our very own soul.
Most of us have higher expectations from ourselves at the beginning of our day. We are ambitious as we churn out that to-do-list, only to be disappointed in another day. Which leads me to my next question.
Why do we feel accomplished when a task is done? Why don’t we feel accomplished for doing the task as it is being done?
If only we gravitate towards finding accomplishment in the task, while it is being undertaken, can we emerge out of this to-do-list fatigue cycle. Recently, the organisational psychologist, Adam Grant, coined the term: to-learn-list, as a way to find value in the task, rather than the outcome of it. The term sticks. Having a to-learn-list, channels our attention to areas of practise that matter to us. It takes off the delivery load, and offers respite in the form of meaning and persistence.
While I’m still learning to implement that in my work-life, I am cultivating it to manage my time off work. I am kinder to myself when I am unable to finish the items on the weekend checklist. I lay focus on the item that matters more, and be happy in just doing that in the weekend. I forgive myself for setting the bar too high, and then lower it for my sake.
I didn’t finish the book I intended to today, but I immersed deep into one chapter and pondered over how it mattered to me. I didn’t go for the run today, but dinner was home-made aubergines salad.
This year has offered many lessons, and unlearning forms of instant gratification, is one. The to-do-list offers short-term respite, but leaving it unfinished, offers a chance at long-term growth. It helps me take a closer look at my priorities, and know myself better. Perhaps, it encourages me to meet life as it happens?