Reality Check: Remembering the “Why” of To-do

It’s a beautiful day. You, however, have to go to work. And mow the lawn. And take the kids to practice, the cat to the vet, and visit the in-laws.

Does it seem that your to-do list goes on and on? That you can never catch up? And there’s barely a minute that truly belongs to you?

Whether your to-do list is written or simply kept in your head, if you feel driven by a list where tasks are added faster than they can possibly be crossed off, you may feel frustrated because you’re never “done.”

If you adopt a choice-oriented outlook though, then you would view frustration as something you “do,” rather than something that happens to you. Ask, “Do I want to frustrate about my to-do list or not?” Your answer could inspire you to evaluate your choice of response (frustration) and consider other possibilities.

One helpful perspective is to remember why we put all those tasks on that list in the first place. If you connect your tasks to your big “wants”—your vision for your life—then you may find it easier to do those tasks with joy rather than frustration.

For example, why mow the lawn? Because it contributes to your big want: to live in a beautiful place.

Why take the kids to practice? Because it contributes to the big want of having happy children fulfilling their goals. Why take the cat to the vet? For the big want of a healthy kitty (or to prevent being overrun with kitties.) Why visit the in-laws? To have the happily connected extended family that you want. And why go to work? Oh yeah, to pay for it all…plus many other good reasons to be part of a productive workforce.

For some folks, joy and satisfaction seem to only be associated with the past or the future. Things will be great: when I retire, when the kids are in college, when I get my new job, when….

Or, things used to be great: when I was working, when the kids were at home, when I lived in my old neighbourhood, when…

However, it’s important to experience the joy and satisfaction that comes from being alive right now, even if “right now” is far from perfect. Look at your to-do list. Remind yourself of the big picture reasons for those tasks.

For those who don’t bother with to-do lists, (shocking!) you likely already have a different perspective than the one I’ve described. If that works well for you, great! Of course, I wonder (along with my many “to-do oriented” colleagues), how do you function without the satisfaction that comes with crossing off a completed task?

But seriously, however you spend your time, if your tasks feel like never-ending drudgery, remember the “why.” If the task is contributing to the life you want, use that big want as your inspiration. If it’s not contributing, perhaps it’s time to reconsider whether it has any place in your list.

Do you use to-do’s? Do they keep you on track? Or frustrated?

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