Reality Check: To-Dos and Purpose

How’s your to-do list? Does it motivate you by giving you purpose and direction? Or is it more like a collection of chores—a hamster wheel that demands lots of effort to keep going round and round but doesn’t seem to get you anywhere?
As much as I’d like to say “We have choice” in our tasks, realistically, our choices depend on our circumstances. Your reality may be that you don’t have much choice.
For example, you likely have responsibilities, such as children, parents or others who depend on you. That involves tasks. You probably have bills to pay. Getting the money to do so usually involves tasks, such as going to work. You or those around you may have significant medical issues or other difficult, worrying circumstances. Those situations may require all manner of tasks.
The reality for many of us is that we have a list of tasks and we don’t have much freedom to pick and choose among them.
If your find your to-do list to be an ongoing source of frustration, then I have a suggestion for you. Fair warning, this won’t make the tasks go away! But maybe, just maybe, it can help you look in a different way—a way that makes the tasks more satisfying and less frustrating.
My suggestion: look for the links between the tasks on your to-do list and your larger purpose.
You might be thinking, “I don’t have time to be thinking about ‘larger purpose’ stuff. I’m barely getting by day to day.” I understand. But if you could find a more satisfying way of looking at your tasks, spending a few minutes might be worth it.
The approach I’m suggesting is based on a structure often used in books and movies called the “hero’s journey.” A version of that structure suggested by Dr. Scott Allison in Psychology Today has four parts: 1. You will go on a journey. 2. There will be adversity. 3. Get a team of allies. 4. Give back to society.
What does this have to do with our to-do lists? Let’s look at how our tasks connect to the “hero’s journey” of our lives.
Using this way of looking, when you’re slogging through household chores—washing dishes, packing lunches and struggling through your youngster’s algebra homework, you are actually on a journey—the journey of raising responsible, successful children.
When you are on the phone for hours struggling to make simple but important arrangements, you are working through adversity. (Adversity for the hero, by the way, is an opportunity to grow.)
When you look at the alarm clock with bleary eyes but get out of bed and go to work anyway, you are coming through for your team of allies.
And whenever you help out another individual, even if it’s simply contributing your friendship and connection, you are giving to society.
Our to-do lists can be a nagging source of frustration if we don’t get the satisfaction that comes from seeing that we are making headway. We can ease that frustration by connecting those tasks to our larger purpose; to our own hero’s journey.
Would using the “hero’s journey” perspective for your to-do list be helpful for you? At the least, is it amusing to think about it that way?

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