Do you ever beat yourself up for all the things still lingering on your to-do list? At times, my list is more like a scroll and my anxiety level can be measured by the lack of check marks next to each task. Forgive me for a moment for should-ing on you, but now I know better and you should too.
Contrary to that familiar and most annoying mantra I catch myself repeating too often, there are PLENTY of hours in the day. Yet, I set myself up for self-loathing when I say there aren’t, as if to imply that I lack life skills such as the ability to manage my time. It doesn’t matter that I know I don’t squander my time. If I watch a TV show it’s because I believe it will either teach me something or entertain my pain away, and both are quite valid. Is it a form of escapism? Yes. And I’m here to tell you, escapism for several moments each and every day is good!
The truth is, on most days, by the time my head hits the pillow at night (hours later than it should), I can account for every hour I spent doing this, that or the other thing. And by the way, I make the mistake of leaving many things off the to-do list because they’re not tasks I can simply eliminate or overlook for lack of time. Things like making meals, food shopping, doing laundry and paying bills must be done, list or no list. So, too often my to-do list is more like an In-addition-to list.
I can’t help but notice it especially lately, as mindfulness is more crucial than ever, I’m aspiring to becoming less of a human doing and more of a human being. My least favorite thing about my day wondering when I’ll find time to just be. When will I put nurturing higher up on my to-do list and stop putting it on the back burner?
One thing we can’t make more of is time. If I feel I’ve wasted minutes, hours, days or years, there’s no chance of replacement. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. When time seems to slip away, it often points to a need for mindfulness. We can choose how we spend each of the 24 hours we’re allotted, aside from work and chores. Here are a few tricks to becoming more of a being and less of a doing.
Understand why this subtle shift isn’t so subtle. It’s a matter of closing the windows where depression, anxiety and that heightened state of oh-no drift in. Do you ever feel like a hamster on a motorized wheel powered by an Eveready battery? If right now you’re painting an invisible vertical line in the air with the tip of your nose, you need to give yourself a break. The best breaks are the ones we grant ourselves, I like to say, so crack open your schedule vault and fit them in as if your life depends on them. The bad news is that the quality of your life DOES depend on the breaks you give yourself. We all know people who have “worked themselves into the ground.” Don’t let it happen to you. Sure, you can keep driving down Exhaustion Highway, but it may not be in your best interest to follow that inner GPS system in desperate need of calibration.
Choose the kinds of “breaks” in your day that will best serve you. I can’t answer this question for you because it’s too personal. We all need time for contemplation, in other words, time to stare at the wall or out the window or into the darkness trapped by your eyelids. But beyond that, you need time to be you in a manner and space not dictated by anyone else. So it should be in the setting of your choice (the library, the pottery studio, tennis court, the beach, in the woods with a camera, your favorite spa, etc.), doing what makes you happy, not at work or anywhere else you might experience confinement. Go to a place you associate with freedom that allows you to be unmistakably and unapologetically you.
Take free-flowing days. Free-flowing days are days that you rely solely on your good intentions to guide you through your workday. Just go with the flow. Is the list less of a necessity and more of an addiction? Either way, don’t focus on it. Maybe a free-flowing day will find you doing what you normally do. Or maybe you’ll deviate completely. Trust yourself to do what needs to be done. Follow your instincts rather than the To-Do Dragon that breathes fire if you don’t play by the rules.
According to a story published on the BBC News website, psychologists have said that obsessive-compulsive list makers do so in an attempt to create an illusion of control in otherwise chaotic lives. It makes sense and makes an even stronger case for going with the flow, which serves many purposes. It gives you a chance to let go of the stress of sticking to a schedule. It also creates room for possibilities, roads less traveled and happy accidents. Take note of the various surprises that occur when you give yourself space to just be.
Do less, not more. Assuming you’re already wearing yourself to somewhere between a wicked and a moderate frazzle, I’m giving you permission to do less. I’m serious. Take a harder look at your to-do list. Make sure you’re not should-ing on yourself. If there’s anything that can wait, let it wait. It’s not an invitation to procrastinate, but rather a suggestion that some of the things you think you need to do are really not necessary. “It’s OK to let another mom send in cookies for the school party,” my therapist once said. “If you can’t settle for sending in store-bought cookies, volunteer to buy the paper plates and napkins.”
It’s part of the giving yourself a break practice (notice I didn’t say theory). I understand there are things that absolutely cannot wait or be ignored. Obviously! But sometimes they can. Learning the difference can be quite liberating. This will also make room for more things that bring you nothing but joy and relate to your passion. Honoring your passion and speak to your inner calling will improve your mental health and your physical health too!