Your Everyday To-Do List

IMG_0930“Good resolutions are like babies crying in church. They should be carried out immediately.” –Charles M. Sheldon

Hello friend,

I have never been one to make New Year’s resolutions. I don’t know what it is about them that repels me. Every time December 31st rolls around, everyone seems to be talking about their resolutions, so I give it a quick thought: “Should I be making resolutions this year?” Invariably, I decide against it.

As I think about it now, I see that it must be my lifelong aversion to limits. I cannot stand to be contained in any way. I need a big bed, loose-fitting clothes, open roads, very few rules, no supervision, and no numerical goals. That last one might seem odd to you, but that is how my mind works. When I talk to people about weight-lifting, they say they need to state exactly how many repetitions they hope to do—e.g. twelve bench presses—to push themselves to that number, otherwise they would do fewer. I am the opposite. If you told me my goal was 12 reps, I would immediately feel constrained by the number, as though it was holding me back from doing more. So it is with resolutions and me. If I give myself a resolution and a year to do it—quit chocolate or join a gym class or lose five pounds or read War and Peace or whatever—I would feel hemmed in by it, wondering what I was going to do when February came around and I had already achieved my goal for the year. Alas, resolutions and I have never quite come to terms.

Still, there I sat on the eve of 2013, wondering how I could be doing better at life. Would a resolution help? I tried to think of the one thing that I could do by the time 2014 rolled around that would make me a better, more fulfilled person. But every attempt at finding that one thing only annoyed me more, made me feel limited by it. In that annoyance, I realized that for me, I didn’t need one thing to do once and be done with it, resolution completed. No, I needed multiple assignments, and I needed to do them every day. That was it! I didn’t need a resolution. I needed HABITS.

What a realization! It brought both relief and inspiration. Immediately I set to work on my list of action items. I had a lot of ideas buzzing through my mind on ways to improve myself, as always, so the trick was finding habits that really spoke to my highest priorities, that would produce wonderful results in many different facets of my life, and that would be a huge challenge to fit into each day of the year. I turned on my computer and typed “2013 Daily To-Do List”, and under that I named seven simple tasks:

  1. Be fully in the moment. This has been a long-time priority of mine: presence. And while I knew I had it while I was with my kids—there are no better examples in all the world of being totally present than children, better than any yogi or healer I know—I had been feeling it slipping in other moments. I noticed myself lost in thought and looking at the sidewalk on my way into work rather than appreciating the sun on my face and the fresh air in my lungs. That was not okay with me. My excuse of being completely exhausted from sleep deprivation since the kids were born was wearing thin, and I knew a change was in order.
  2. The Journal Project. By that point in time, I was a few months into my enormous project, and I knew it would take several years for just the first phase if I kept on the pace I was going. It was time to turn it up a few notches. Daily action was necessary, no matter what.
  3. Meditate. I had meditated in short and infrequent spurts over the years, but each time I did it, I was reminded of its unlimited value. I wanted it on my docket.
  4. Act like my wife’s best friend & biggest fan. This had become a frequent topic in my internal conversations of late. I was thinking of how forgiving and supportive I am toward my buddies, but how I was seemingly giving the one I had pledged my life to the least amount of leeway and applause. That was unacceptable to me.
  5. Improve efficiency/Waste no time. I am extremely ambitious when it comes to the very tiny window of time I have when I am not either at work or playing with my kids. I want to read every book in the world, do The Journal Project, write a blog, teach myself the guitar and piano, get fit, keep up the house and yard, get another degree, write a book, and on and on and on. All after 8:30 P.M.!
  6. Reduce sugar intake. I am, and always have been, addicted to sugar. I had been reading more about nutrition and the detrimental effects of sugar, and I was determined to take steps to get my addiction under control.
  7. Stretch/Yoga. This one, like meditation, is a practice that I had been recommending to anyone and everyone ever since I found yoga when I was around 24. Unfortunately for me, I had become completely out of the habit, another casualty of becoming “busy” and losing sight of my priorities. I wanted it back.

That was my list. The seven things I wanted to keep front-and-center every day of the 2013. I printed two copies and taped one to my bathroom mirror and one to my desk. You may be wondering why “Write in my journal” is not there. The answer is simple.   I only wanted items on the list that were not already firmly entrenched into my day. Thus, “Write in my journal” and “Spend every possible moment absorbed in my kids” had no use on the list; they were coming along anyway. As you can see, some of the items required no extra time commitment, which, I suppose, means they should have been easiest to execute. The others were certainly achievable daily actions. Even from this distance, it looks like a pretty practical list.

So, how did I do? Hmmm. Not as well as I had hoped, but there were some positives. I was more present, which proved to be a good stress-reducer. My work on The Journal Project, which went hand-in-hand with improving efficiency/wasting no time, turned out to be the task I did far better than the rest.   I started writing it in my schedule, which really cemented the commitment. I made tremendous progress, which was extremely satisfying, both in terms of the simple joy of progress and also in the blissful pursuit of my dreams. Everything about it felt good. All the while I was cutting almost all unnecessary activities—television being the biggest—out of my day. Improve efficiency/waste no time became ingrained enough that I probably didn’t’ even need the reminder anymore. The other one I did okay with was being more supportive and forgiving of my wife. Simply having it on the list in front of me made me more mindful of our relationship and being a better friend and fan. I saw her more clearly.

I wish I could say I checked everything off my “2013 Daily To-Do List” every day, but alas, I wasn’t up to the task. I started off right with meditation, creating a dedicated space in my basement for it and allotting a meager twelve minutes per night to start. I loved it, too, but somehow it became quick to go when I got busy, and the almost-habit fizzled to nothing. The stretching/yoga went the same way. I struggled with reducing my sugar intake, too, though I definitely became much more aware of when I was eating it. Needless to say, there were definitely some “fails” on my list.

Nevertheless, when it came time to re-evaluate the list for a 2014 version, I decided to keep it exactly the same. I wanted to keep going with the good things, and I still valued my failed items enough to keep them on my daily task list for another year. Sadly, valuing them has not translated into doing them. I have yet to resume the meditation or yoga. I have actually done a tiny bit better with my sugar habit. Unfortunately, The Journal Project has fallen off my daily schedule, being replaced by its partner, “Journal of You”, which you are reading now. Though I totally love the blog-writing and see its value and place in my greater mission, it pains me that I have not kept up on The Journal Project.

What I am seeing now is that I need a new, revised “2014 Daily To-Do List” that still reflects my ambition but has some grounding in the reality of my schedule. So, starting today, here goes:

      1. Be fully in the moment.
      2. Act like my wife’s best friend & biggest fan.
      3. Reduce sugar intake.
      4. The Journal Project/Journal of You—at least one, not always the same one. 

How about you? Are you ready to create your own “2014 Daily To-Do List”? Open your journal and start jotting ideas. Are your tasks things that you currently do sometimes but not every day? Are they things that are going to take time and require you to schedule them (e.g. my Journal Project), or are they things that require only a psychological or philosophical shift (e.g. being fully present)? Is it time to add something totally new to your life, like learning an instrument or a new language? Try to find a balance of ambition and reality; make the list a challenge but not so hard that you are dooming yourself to failure. Just make sure the list speaks to who you want to be, the version of you that you know is in there ready to come out. Leave me a reply and tell me who that person is. I want to know: what’s on your everyday to-do list?

You will come alive just past your comfort zone,

William

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