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In this episode, I talk about the to-do list and our love of it keeping us on task and responsible and its way of keeping us trapped in the belief that WHEN we finish the to-do list we will be happier. (That’s a lie by the way.)
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Hi and welcome. You are listening to the Happiness Hacks Podcast, and I’m your host, Nancy Jane Smith. I’m licensed professional counselor, and in this podcast, I share my stories, lessons, and hacks I’ve learned, and I keep learning on my quest to live happier. Show notes and a complete transcript can be found at live-happier.com/podcast. And this is episode 81, the love/hate relationship with our to-do list.
Hey gang, so today I want to talk about our to-do list. And this came up last week. I’ve been doing a book tour for the Happier Approach book and last week I was in Kentucky at a private women’s event. And the big theme of that event was the to-do list and how a lot of people did not recognize that our to-do list was the way that their monger was showing up. And so today, I just kind of want to touch base with you on what I call the to-do list black hole.
And so I think a lot of us have a love/hate relationship with the to-do list. On the one hand, we love it because it keeps us organized and on top of things. And on the other hand, we struggle with falling into the to-do list black hole and becoming kind of a slave to our to-do list. And we attach our to-do list to our worthiness. And that’s where we get into trouble.
So here are a few common statements when it comes to the to-do list. My to-do list is my bible. I mean, I can’t live without my to-do list. I have a love/hate relationship with my to-do list. I feel chained to my to-do list. I’m constantly checking it. I mean, I can’t remember a day without my to-do list. And finally, my to-do list helps me stay on top of my busy, busy life, I just can’t fathom life without it.
A to-do list is a wonderful tool because it guides your every day and it allows us to know what needs to be done, what’s coming up, it keeps us on top of things. But the problem is, is that it’s a tool. It’s a tool. That’s all it is. It isn’t attached to our worthiness. Finishing our to-do list will never lead to satisfaction. It may for a brief moment but it never fully leads us there, because we think that if we finish the to-do list, we’re going to get there, and there doesn’t exist, because the to-do list just keeps growing and growing and growing.
So at this book event last week, one of the women was sharing a story about how she frequently at the end of the day finds herself cramming, trying to check everything off her to-do list. And one of the last items is frequently cleaning up the kitchen. And so when she’s in the kitchen scrubbing the counters and disinfecting everything, her husband is laying in the TV room watching TV. And a lot of times she’ll have some resentment against him because here she is, stuck in the kitchen, and he is relaxing in front of the TV.
And it wasn’t until I had her go through the ASK philosophy that we talk about in Happier Approach of acknowledging her feelings, slowing down and get into her body and kindly pulling back to see the big picture, that she realized it was her monger telling her how much she needed to get everything done. If she got everything done, then everything would be okay. And she ended every night feeling crappy. Because A, she didn’t get everything done, so she still wasn’t worthy. And B, she was resentful of her husband because he was lazy and laying around and didn’t have the same level of go go go that she did.
And it wasn’t until through the group discussion that we pulled back and she could say wow, does it matter if the countertops are clean? Is that really what’s important here? Or is it important that this is the only time I can hang out with my husband, is this brief hour at the end of the day after the kids go to bed. And so maybe letting it go, the to-do list, and spending time with my husband laying on the floor, easing into some of his rhythms, would be better, because yes, the kitchen is clean. The countertops don’t have to be disinfected. It’s clean. And so kind of reducing the standards of the to-do list.
And so that was going to be her challenge, was to loosen the reins a little bit around that to-do list and the mentality of everything has to be done perfectly on the to-do list, and I got this, and I’m the only one that can do the to-do list. And so there’s a lot of stuff that gets wrapped up in this to-do list mentality, which is why it is one of the most common phrases in my office, is clients coming in to talk about checking stuff off the to-do list and how are they going to get everything done. So I think it’s fascinating what our to-do list has come to mean to us and how much it is tied to worthiness and being enough and that’s become the measure of can we get stuff done.
So what are we supposed to do about this? How do we get around? We need the to-do list to get stuff done.And so I think we need to take some time to step back and see the big picture. I’m a huge fan of that, as you know from my work, to see the big picture and to look at our values and say does this fit into what’s happening in my life right now? Is this really what’s important? If I value relationships and I value spending time with my kids, does it matter how clean the kitchen is? Is that an important thing? And so to be able to not only fill the to-do list with our list of stuff but to also be able to rank how important is it that I finish this?
So one of the exercises I’ve done for years is ranking things by importance. And so I will know at the end of the day, these are the three to five things I have to get done because that’s realistic. And so I put those at the top of the list. And each day I have these are the three to five things I’m going to get done today. And then if something comes along that bumps one of them off, then I move it to the next day. It gets bumped. It doesn’t get added. And so it’s recognizing what’s realistic here? What can I get done? And it’s also making sure that you can add some spontaneity to your day, to recognize this is just a list, this isn’t the bible. This isn’t about my worthiness. If I don’t get these three to five things done, life moves on. People may be disappointed. And that’s okay.
Because our mongers tend to tell us everything on this list has to be done, it has to be done perfectly; you can’t mess up, what will they think if you miss the deadline, you’re a terrible person, et cetera et cetera. So we attach so much of our worthiness to a freaking list that is hopefully filled with stuff that fits our values and the stuff that we want to do, and the stuff if we pull back, feeds our higher good. And if it doesn’t and we’re just doing the to-do list to check stuff off the to-do list, then we need to check in with ourselves and do a little come to Jesus on what’s more important in our lives. Is this that important? And if it is, how do we make time for it and all the other stuff that’s that important?
So this week, I want you to look at your to-do list. Have a to-do list come to Jesus to see, is the stuff that I’m filling my life with what I want to be doing? Is this important to me? And if it isn’t, how can I start changing things up? Where can I start asking for help? How can I start pushing some stuff off my to-do list? How can I start changing my priorities? Because let’s be real. There is stuff on the to-do list that we don’t want to do that we have to do, A. And B, our to-do list overfloweth. And so we all have way too much on our plates. And some of that is expectations we’re putting on ourselves. Some of that is societal expectations. And some of that is just, I have to put food on the table at the end of every day, and I have to take care of my kids.
And so we need to get crystal clear on what is most important here. What am I doing because I think I should be doing it, or I think so and so will be mad at me if I don’t, or so and so will be disappointed if I don’t, or so and so is doing it so I should be doing it? Where are we losing sight of what’s most important to us? And then once you’ve done all that and you’ve taken your to-do list, and you have fine-tuned it, and it is perfectly packed with your priorities and the stuff that feeds your values and is most important to you, and you’re still overwhelmed? Then you have to ask yourself, where can I ask for help? Where can I reach out and get help from a friend, from a coworker, from my boss, from my family? Where can I get help?
And so it isn’t that you need to silently suffer in this to-do list hell. We need to start unhooking ourselves from our to-do list equals our worthiness and get control over these to-do lists and make sure that it’s fitting our priorities and not what our monger or someone else tells us we should be doing.
Okay, that’s the show. If you have any questions, please email me, email@example.com. I love hearing from you and finding out what’s going on and talking about your to-do lists. And if you want to be included in the Happier Approach book tour, send me an email, I’d love to chat with you and your group about the Happier Approach in a small, intimate setting. It’s one of my favorite things to do.
Next week, I’m going to be doing the Live Happier Q&A episode for April. If you have any questions, please email me, firstname.lastname@example.org, or go to my website, live-happier.com/podcast and submit your question and I’ll answer it here on the podcast.
So that’s it. Have a great week. Here’s to living happier.
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