I often refer to my planner as my bible, and I keep track of my entire life in it. In many ways it is an amazing productivity tool, but in my obsessive-tendencied hands it had become yet another expectation on my time. My to-do list went from being a useful tool to a taskmaster that added stress to my day. I needed to minimize the expectations I had put on myself.
2017 is the year of mindfulness for me, and that meant not being ruled by a to-do list any longer. But how would my analytical, list-loving personality supposed to get anything done?
As luck would have it, or perhaps divine intervention, I woke up on Monday with a terrible migraine. Like shut-the-curtains-and-pull-a-blanket-over-my-head migraine. My husband had to take over the mom taxi. I had to postpone any and all work to hibernate under the blankets. My head wanted to explode. I didn’t write one single, solitary thing on my to-do list that day.
The next day I was feeling 100% better, but just as I started my first haircut in the salon, giant snowflakes started falling from the sky. A winter storm had been predicted, but I’m from Iowa, we don’t get too worked up about these things. Within 15 minutes an inch of snow had fallen (that is an insane amount for 15 minutes, in case you are a Floridian or something). I high-tailed it home, and wasn’t able to leave the house for 2 days. My husband’s work even called off his shift, and school let our early and cancelled the next day.
I could have used those two days to sit in front of my computer and be productive. But I didn’t. I sat in front of the open window and watched the snow fall. I sipped a glass of wine (hallelujah for husbands who think to grab a bottle of wine on the snow-storm-stockup mad dash to the store) and read a book. We had some family TV time and caught up on our DVR’d shows. We just chilled.
I may not have had an all-out epiphany, but I have come out of those two days refreshed and with a better sense of how I want to live my life. I don’t want to be busy! Some people thrive on keeping their schedule full, but it drains me. I want to have time to read and spend quality time with my family. A productive routine is superior to an ambitious to-do list.
I am such a huge proponent of getting rid of the excess in your life, but I was blinded to the excessive expectations I put on myself. Expectations feel heavy. My productivity was being judged by my to-do list; my worthiness measured by how many check marks I was able to put in my planner each day. After all, if I’m not productive every waking moment of the day doesn’t that make me lazy?
The good news is, it is entirely possible to use a planner and a to-do list without letting it rule you. I still keep a to-do list, but I structure it very differently. Instead of an ambitious list written with the sole purpose of being just as long as the previous day’s, I purposely keep it short and attainable. I tend to write things down as a reminder more than a command. And I find that I am much more productive this way. I actually look forward to sitting down and working on my blog again.
I will probably never give up a planner, and I’ll be writing to-do lists in it from my wheelchair in the nursing home. But the freedom to leave it in the desk drawer a little more often has been a breath of fresh air. There are many things in life that can be wonderful tools, but let’s be mindful to keep them in their place and minimize expectations.