This year, more than ever, there is so much to do. If we were all to sit down and write a full-length list of the accomplishments we have yet to reach, from the smallest task to the largest milestone, the list would be horrendous.
In an average day of 12 hours, we are expected to do and achieve so many things. We need to eat 3 healthy meals – vegan or non-vegan. We need to get dressed, make ourselves look good, commute to work, buy things, reply to things. We must exercise, socialise, work, make plans, make lists, update things, write in calendars or diaries. Remembering birthdays, anniversaries, TV guides, event programmes, upcoming deadlines. We need to carry out self-care, meditation, mindfulness, go to therapy, do some yoga. We need to learn new things, and absorb new information and respond to it. We need to clean our homes, look after our pets and children, care for our parents and worry about our own medical issues.
These lists go on and on and on and it’s overwhelming. So what do we do, as humans with low level compulsions and a need for aesthetic comfort? We make lists. We buy expensive notebooks and nice pens, and we write down the things we ‘need to do’. These are usually work-related things, but often include domestic tasks like ‘order packages’ ‘take out the bins’ ‘iron shirts’.
The young generations try to romanticize these lists, make them healthy and visually pleasing. They follow Youtube tutorials on bullet journalling and organisational skills, as if breaking up your survival lists into ‘mindful’ chunks will remove them from your mind. The results: they don’t. You just end up spending more time writing them than actually following them.
In terms of mental health, are all of these to-do lists actually good for us? Of course not. No matter where we write them – on paper, in a notebook, in an app, through voice notes…nothing short of tattooing them onto your arm would ever help you to remember everything on them.
This, of course, leads you to feel like a failure, unaccomplished and guilty. You value your own abilities based on the number of horizontal lines you scratch into a page of tasks you’ve yet to complete.
So what’s the solution? Stop writing lists and forget half of our daily tasks? No. We are always going to need these seemingly endless lists to keep our minds and our bodies in check. But rather than letting them make us feel bad, we’re simply going to place less importance on them – focusing entirely on our ‘done’ list instead.
A pretty self-explanatory concept, the ‘done’ list is the itemised bill of all of the achievements we never seem to count when describing our productivity levels. For each individual, the ‘done’ list will be different – for a super-charged energetic soul, their ‘done’ lists might be full of the steps walked to work or the fruit prepared for breakfast. For the workaholic, their ‘done’ list should describe opening their inbox, powering through a challenging commute, remembering to bring their new coffee mug in.
On some days, your done list will be full of important and exciting things – delivering a speech, hitting a deadline, going on a date, going on a flight. On other days, your done list will be simple and that’s still ok, even if all you accomplish is eating breakfast, making a cup of coffee and opening the curtains.
The symbolic nature of the ‘done’ list is designed to make you more aware of the everyday accomplishments you scarcely register. Yes, to you, washing your face is a small task. To others, it’s a huge one. One person’s ‘done’ list is another person’s ‘to do’ list.
I would also recommend writing your ‘done’ list before you even begin to draft your daily ‘to do’ list. Because not only will this help you to feel that surge of ‘wow I’ve already done this much today and it’s not even 9am yet’, but it also helps you to see the balance between past achievements and future. I urge anyone drowning under their to do lists to give this a try and force yourself to feel proud of yourself at least once a day.
It’s so important to keep your self-value in check during these busy busy years and small changes to your mindset such as this one can really really help.