How motivated would you be if your life coach spent every session with you reviewing what you hadn’t done, with no mention of the huge number of things you’d accomplished? For years my dental hygienist would nag me about flossing my teeth. I arrived for my six-month cleaning one visit, triumphant that I had been flossing every day. I fully expected my feat to be lauded with praise. Instead, she told me I obviously wasn’t flossing correctly. Do you think I kept flossing? I quit and didn’t develop the habit again until years later when I was motivated to do it for me.
Granted, there are personalities who do not do things for the praise of others. Some people are blissfully happy checking off to-do’s from their lists without any angst about the undone tasks. Others are so naturally self-disciplined that they are able to plan only the amount of work they can reasonably do in a day and do it. That isn’t me.
I’ve recently determined that for me, a to-do list is like keeping a crummy life coach or a negative dental hygienist around. Everything I accomplish is immediately crossed off and ignored, while everything I haven’t done is there to taunt me with phrases like, “You’ll never catch up,” “When will you ever stop procrastinating?” and “You didn’t do the most important things.” As a psychologist and a mother, I know that the negativity involved in a to-do list is counterproductive, yet I have used one for decades.
Well, no more. I’ve decided to say ta-ta to my to-do list and hello to ta-done. When I finish something I want to enjoy saying, “Ta-da!” I don’t want to cross it off where I can’t see it and celebrate it. I want to focus on what I’ve done, not what I’ve left undone. In that spirit, I am no longer using a traditional to-do list of any sort. Horrors, some may say! And for you, it may really be horrible to go sans list. But I am loving my new naked approach to productivity.
Here’s how it works. I continue to use reminders and a calendar for tasks that are time-sensitive. For example, I have library materials due. I put a reminder on my calendar for this. I will also continue to keep lists of important information. For instance, I have a list of gifts received so I can send thank you notes. I am not, however, going to put “send thank you notes” on a traditional to-do list. Why not, you ask? Because I hate feeling pressured or guilted into doing things like that. Adding it to a list will make procrastination of this task more, not less likely. Every time I see the task on my list uncompleted I will hear that nagging life coach in my head. So how will I get tasks like this accomplished?
Getting things Ta-Done for me begins with prayer. In the past I have prayed for God to put His stamp of approval on my agenda. The problem with this type of approach is that it keeps me from hearing God’s plan for my day. And what if God doesn’t want to give me my marching orders at his daily scheduled appointment, but prefers to be the voice that directs throughout the day? My old method didn’t allow for continuous guidance at all. Allowing God to determine my next action is giving me the excitement that my personality craves. Sure, I can plan something, but what if God has something even better in mind?
Of course, I am not suggesting that all planning is counterproductive. The Bible speaks of the wisdom of planning. But we’ve turned planning into a religion of its own. How much more time have I spent at the altar of the planner or to-do list than I’ve spent in God’s Word? I know I never leave time spent reading the Bible feeling like a failure, but so often that’s exactly how I feel after worshiping the productivity gods.
Will my new approach to productivity allow my inner brat to run wild? Will I be spending all my time surfing the web? I doubt it. The to-do list created my “slacker” identity and I have lived up to it. I believe that the freedom I am giving myself will function like responsibility entrusted to a young adult coming into her own. I think I will live up to my responsible identity, too.
The Ta-Da part of Ta-Done is sharing my daily accomplishments with a friend. I have been emailing a friend the things I did that made me happy. They can be the usual fare like, “emptied email inbox,” but can also be the kinds of things you’d never put on a to-do list like, “didn’t get mad when the kids ruined the new art supplies.” My positive reaction to my friend’s Ta-Done list reminds me to be similarly enthusiastic about my own accomplishments.
What might you be able to accomplish if you ditch your to-do list and allow yourself to relish the ta-da in all you do?