My Case For Putting Down Your To-Do List and Finding Joy Outside of It

My Case For Putting Down Your To-Do List and Finding Joy Outside of It

If you were to flip through any of my notebooks, you would find to-do lists muddled all throughout them—full of writing assignments, course readings, job applications, interviews, chores.

Lately I’ve found though that to-do lists have both negatives and positives. They can be great when they can help me stay organized or help me hold myself accountable to things that need to get done. They can also at times be overwhelming if I’ve written them out from a place of anxiety.

These anxious patterns of thought around constantly “doing” made me sensitive to all the ways that the conversations around me focused on  “doing” — what do I have to do today? What should I be doing right now? What are you doing? What are we doing?

In my reflection I realized that I’ve learned to be obsessed with productivity and all the qualities that come associated with it. For instance being any of these are all considered positive attributes: productive, hard-working, motivated, determined, goal-oriented. I’m not going to deny that these can be awesome characteristics, especially if they are being used to catalyze something that is really important to you. But what about: inquisitive, present, curious, open, spontaneous, alive, inspired? Where are all of the to-explore, to-create, to-enjoy lists? We are so focused on “doing” that sometimes  I fear that we lose sight of the process of what we are doing; that potentially important, insightful, interesting, inspiring experiences are becoming items on a list that feel good to cross off.

Some of the best, most joyous moments of my life have been spontaneous ones — an eight-hour conversation into the morning hours on a school night, an unexpected trip to swim in the moonlight, a wild run through the streets in the pouring rain and lightning storms, perusing books for hours in the library with a friend. These are the moments that feel the most precious to my human existence—ones of full presence and aliveness.

I’m not saying that we should burn all of our to-do lists (although, who knows, maybe that would be cathartic.) But maybe, some days, instead of writing down our to-do’s, we could take five extra minutes in bed to visualize what we want our days to look like, and then leave room for spontaneous enjoyments, adventures, and joy. Maybe some days we make to-explore lists instead. Maybe some days we go without any lists at all, and let ourselves just be, knowing that we are lovable, outrageously special, worthy, exquisitely flawed, and beautiful just as we are.

Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.