I am addicted to to-do-lists. There, I admitted it. I was fully aware of the fact that I made at least one every morning and that I could not remember the last morning when this ritual had not occurred, but I was not aware of how addicted I was until I was forced to go without. Well, that’s not entirely true. I wasn’t forced to go without. No one took away all my pens and paper. No was holding me at gunpoint. No one was even aware of my little secret. Quite simply, I found myself in a situation where it was beyond fruitless to create a to-do-list. I was on a seven-day yoga retreat to complete the teacher training program I was in. Our days were perfectly laid out for us from 7:00AM to 9:00PM everyday. We had a piece of paper that told us exactly what would occur and when. It would have been down right silly to create a to-do-list. And still, that first morning I felt a little wave of panic as I realized I had been stripped of my addiction. I sat on my bed after my morning meditation not knowing what to do with myself. I instinctually wanted to grab for a pen and piece of paper to start listing all the things I needed to do that day. The calm stillness of early morning was sliced with my anxiety over having to be perfectly present with myself, my life, and my emotions, without the distraction of my to-do-list. Then came the realization that is was 6:50AM, the time we were all to meet upstairs for our morning yoga class. Thankfully, I had something to do.
As I pondered my to-do-list addiction I discovered some things about myself. Quite frankly I would have much preferred to continue down my to-do-list path than come face to face with these discoveries, but just like Pandora’s box, sometimes the lid cannot be put back on. With no daily to-do-lists I was forced to look at what lay beneath the surface of my unassuming little lists. I quickly realized the number of items on the list and the number of things crossed off helped me determined how successful my day had been. How much of a success or failure I was within twenty-four hours resided in one silly little list, often written on nothing more substantial than a post-it. Sick, I know. It’s not healthy, but admit it…some of you out there must do the same. I cannot be the only one with this affliction. I realized I was not allowing myself to be truly present during my days. The to-do-list was always on my mind. While I was working on one task I was calculating how much longer it would take to finish and get to my next task. If I engaged in anything not on the to-do-list I spent the whole time thinking about getting back to my to-do-list items. I was keeping myself at a safe distance from my own life. Nothing can go wrong when you live your life by a list instead of by thought, curiosity, or love.
I got through my first day back without really feeling the pull of my to-do-list addiction, but the second day was another story. Having left my work life on pause for seven days I had tons of emails to respond to, several articles and a thesis to edit, loose ends to tie up for multiple performances at the end of the month, and homework to do. I needed a to-do-list to get through all of it. How would I measure how much I had gotten through and how much more I still had to go? How would I remember everything? How would I know if I forgot to do something? Then I took a deep breath and reminded myself of all the reasons not to make a to-do-list, the false measure of self worth, the lack of presence in my own life. I fought the urge to make a to-do-list and quietly set about all I had to get through, one item at a time. I was productive, I did not forget anything, and I was not distracted by the nagging voice of the to-do-list urging me to work faster, cross of more items, and determine my level of success by the number of tasks I had accomplished in one day. I felt a sense of relief. I had done it. I had made it through my day without a to-do-list. The following day the pull to make a to-do-list was very faint, although I did still have a slight yearning to make one, just for old time sake. I should make note of the fact that I have only made it through five days sans to-do-lists as I write this, so while I do not want to relapse into my old ways there is still the very real possibility that a to-do-list may be made at some point in the coming days. However, I will say, that it will be with greater clarity and awareness. All you to-do-list makers…carry on! And make an extra one for me while you’re at it.