I used to be a to-do list kind of person. Like, I kept an ongoing to-do list in my planner at all times and derived great satisfaction from checking things off that list. But then, at some point, I started to notice that my to-do lists were becoming a little too demanding, and that they were starting to create a sort of inadvertent pressure in my life. It became less about doing the thing and more about checking the box.
In a moment of clarity, I realized that my to-do list wasn't so important anymore. I realized that the shit I wanted to pick up at the store would always be there waiting for me. The neverending things around the house, they’d all be there waiting, too.
Basically, I started to put a lot more trust in myself that things would happen when they were meant to happen, rather than pressuring myself to make it all happen on some self-imposed schedule.
I realize this may sound kind of willy-nilly for anyone who still loves their to-do lists. I realize that some of you may be breaking out in a cold sweat while you’re reading this, thinking about how to-do lists improve your life, how satisfying it feels to check off those fun little boxes, how you wouldn’t get anything done without them.
I’m not here to convert you to my way, nor am I here to tell you that your way is wrong. I’m just here to share my personal experiences with to-do lists, and write about how I've embraced un-doing. Take it or leave it.
As the Social Coordinator for my family - I use the term "social" loosely - I do like to keep a semi-detailed monthly calendar of important dates, appointments, ball games, work stuff, client bookings, etc. I’m a visual person and I like to see the whole month at-a-glance to be sure I’m keeping my days and weeks balanced.
Looking at all these months at-a-glance, I've come to learn that my favorite days on the calendar can be the blank days. I'll even dare to say that the more empty days I see the better. I get it, though. We all have seasons in our life where we’re busier than others, unforeseen circumstances arise, obligations are inevitable.
That’s why unscheduling is so important to me.
But here's where it gets tricky: Say I’m trying to schedule time with someone, or more than one person, and I keep seeing an unscheduled day just sitting there all blank and beckoning. I start negotiating with myself about whether I should offer up some of my unscheduled time because it works for everyone else and my recovering, internal over-giver voice starts speaking a little louder than I'd like.
Why do I suddenly feel like other people's time should be more important than mine? And why on earth do I feel selfish for wanting to preserve my unscheduled time?
For now, here's what I've learned about this.
After being unknowingly disconnected from myself for a good part of my life, keeping my unscheduled time becomes The Work. It's nothing less than keeping commitments to myself.
Fundamentally, can I resist the urge to give up my unscheduled time and continue honoring myself, despite my formerly conditioned belief that I'm being selfish if I'm not being selfless?
So far, I think it comes down to this:
We don't have to up all our calendar squares with activities and commitments any more than we have to fill up all the blank spaces in our home with scented candles and knick-knacks, or the blank spaces in conversations with small talk and head nods. It's not always about what we do, but what we don't do.