By Susan McCarthy
Removing long-held expectations can create more time and space for the things that are important to you.
I’m a big fan of to-do lists…not a clue why since sometimes (read that as “frequently”) I simple drag the same task from one list to the next. Lists aren’t the most effective productivity tool, but it is soooo satisfying to cross an item off the list (even more satisfying than actually finishing the task). Let’s face it, if you make to-do lists then chances are pretty good that you’d done a task and then added it to the list for the pure pleasure of immediately scratching it off the list!
Another satisfying act? Acknowledging that some tasks won’t get done and crossing them off that piece of paper, erasing them from the to-do list running through your mind, and clearing some space in your heart for the things that you choose to do.
A task or project doesn’t have to be physically completed to give you that sense of relief. Deciding to not do something provides its own sense of completion. You’re done with telling yourself that you’ll get around to it “someday.”
That decision can save you the time, energy, and attention you were giving to something that you weren’t all that interest in (because, let’s face it, if you were, then you would have done it).
Candidates for Your Not To Do List
Objects that have been piling up. Many of the things in your home call for you to do something with them. Read this book. Wear these clothes. Bake bread in the bread machine. Mix up a smoothie for breakfast. Knit this. Paint that. Organize those things. Walk on that treadmill.
All these things send subtle messages to you to do something with these things, justifying their space in your home. Deciding to get rid of these objects, supplies, materials, equipment, and appliances, frees you from the actions associated with those things.
What if you’re thinking, “but I want to do that”? Can you plan some small action that will have you interacting with these things? In some cases, you may have tasks to do before you can focus on the action you want. For example, you need to sort through your yarn or patterns and decide what project you want to do before you can sit down for an evening of crochet.
I found that when I started sorting through my bookshelves with plans of pulling out some titles to read next, I found a slew of books that had been sitting there, unread for over twenty years. And I’d packed and unpacked them for five moves! When I had to decide, “Do I want to read this now?” my answer made me realize that it was time to release my expectation of reading them again and I cleared three shelves.
Resolutions that keep showing up on your New Year’s list. Another group of things to eliminate from your to-do list, resolutions. You may want the result, but you have no interest in the many actions necessary to get that result (I’m thinking of you ‘lose weight.’)
Who knows, maybe taking the pressure off accomplishing a resolution (that’s been positioned front and center every January 1st for years (decades?!) will give you some perspective as to what you really want for your life.
Why haven’t you decided to work toward this resolution? Is it important to you or is it something that others are telling you that you should do?
Again, if you want to achieve the results you’d gain from this resolution, identify a tiny action that you could do each day – take a ten minute walk, write a hundred words toward that novel, declutter a single item from your closet each day. These small acts might break through the overwhelm you feel because you’re focusing on the result instead of the path you will take to get there.
If you still feel indifferent toward working toward this goal, give yourself permission to let it go instead of allowing it to nag you every day you ignore acting.
People you don’t want to spend time with. Maybe working from home has given you a perspective on some of the negative people at work whom you used to commiserate with. With some distance, you realize how exhausted you used to feel after these interactions.
Take a break from the friend who talks about their problems and then looks at their phone when you start to talk about your life. Free yourself from the hairdresser who insists on creating the style she feels would look good on you.
This is a tough one as you may wish you could avoid people you can’t entirely ignore. Can you come up with ways to interact with them that would be better for your stress levels? Maybe respond to a topic of conversation in a noncommittal way instead of agreeing with the person, giving them permission to drag you down into a topic you honestly don’t care about.
Requests. What requests do you foresee coming your way that you wish you could turn down or limit your participation so it’s more on your terms? Plan so you can say “no” in a thoughtful way as opposed to feeling trapped and unable to think of a way out in the moment.
Yes, there are some people you can’t say “no” to without adding more stress to your life, but knowing what’s coming your way and deciding how you’ll handle the situation, can help give you a sense of control.
“Should” thoughts. If you feel that you should do something, take a step back and consider why you feel that you are tied to a task, event, or even object. Chances are, if you feel that you should do something then you aren’t all that interested in actually doing it. On the other hand, if you choose to do something, it’s likelier to get done because you want to do it.
Can you alter “should” actions so it’s something that you choose to do? For example, I’ll visit my cousin’s family, but for an hour, not two or three. I’ll explain that I’m not trying to make them feel bad by leaving early, and that I’ve chosen to spend an hour with them.
Do Less, Not More
Creating a not to-do list is about making decisions. What will you do and what won’t you do? You’ll free up time, energy, and attention for the things that are important to you by acknowledging that there are events, objects, and tasks that you don’t need in your life.
You reduce your stress by not delaying making a decision. With each thing that moves from your to-do list to your not-to-do list, you create a bit more space in your life for the things you want.
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Susan, chief (and only) organized squirrel at A Less Cluttered Life, pursues learning, practicing, and sharing information about the everyday habits that can lead to living a better life.