PSA: Your Life is Not a To-Do List
“Emily, Sarah, Rebecca, Margaret, Molly…”
It was 3 a.m., and I was in a hotel room in D.C. tapping away at a list on my iPhone.
“…Jen, Andrea, Katie…”
It was a list of all the people I’d promised to get lunch with, said we would “get together soon,” and honestly maybe needed a favor from, which I’m not super proud to admit, who I hadn’t made time for. After racking my brain for every name I might have missed, I put my phone down, turned off the light and rolled over and attempted to fall asleep. Then it hit me.
“Did I just make an iPhone list of people I needed to make time for? Who am I?”
My desire to give 100 percent to my job and side projects was consuming my life, and my day-to-day experience had become so task oriented that everything I did was part of a larger checklist. Getting coffee had turned from an enjoyable outing to catch up with friend to just another item I needed to mentally scratch off my to-do list so I could fulfill some sort of social normalcy requirement.
Even when I was able to get coffee, my mind would be thinking of the next email I needed to send or the next blog post I needed to write, without even giving a thought to who was sitting across from me and what they were saying and thinking. I wasn’t enjoying my time with the people I loved, and I think it’s safe to say they weren’t either.
In my hotel room, I promptly rolled back over, turned the light back on, deleted the list and made a different list that was much more helpful — the things I was going to do to make sure I was able to focus on and enjoy my time with others. Ironically, the self-proclaimed world champion of list making could only come up with three things: prioritize your tasks, designate phone-free time and say “no” about 87 percent more than I was then.
I knew if I was able to rank my to-do list in order of importance and complete at least the top item, I would be able to go into a coffee date less focused on my work and more focused on the person I was meeting. I also knew my phone served as my conduit to my obsession with work and emails, so if I was unable to check my phone, I was less likely to create an environment of impatience and urgency.
And last but not least, saying “no.” I had always prided myself on almost always finding a way to say “yes.” I inconvenienced myself and everyone around me by getting everything done for everyone else. Instead of excelling in the art of people pleasing, I did a less-than-mediocre job at everything, and was left with feelings of resentment and aggravated friends and family members.
What I had failed to realize was this was a monster of my own creation. I could have said “no” when I knew I already had three things planned for Friday at noon, but I didn’t, and I was paying for it. I felt stretched too thin, and realized I couldn’t make anyone else happy until I got my life in order. This is a hard habit to break, and I’m still struggling with implementation, but I’m starting to grasp the importance of setting boundaries and limitations on my time and commitments.
So now instead of designing my life around my to-do list, I design my to-do list around my life, and so far, so good.