Mindfully Managing To-Do Lists

To do list

By Farah Govani — I love planning and I love lists; I am relishing the thought of starting a new project plan for my wedding following my recent engagement. Lists have been my certainty anchors for many years: when I feel overwhelmed by how many things I feel I need to do, a well-structured, categorised list has always made me feel so much better.

The thing is, I don’t recall ever crossing everything off my to-do list.  No matter how organised I am (e.g. defining my business’ annual goals, converting those into quarterly priorities which then drive my weekly to-do lists), my natural tendency is to aim to get so much more done than is physically, mentally and emotionally possible in whatever timeframe I set for myself. Plus of course I’m sure you have also found that completing one activity tends to result in you adding the next step onto your list.  That’s just the way us humans roll.

So how can I start a whole new project whilst running my business, growing theStep-Parent Network and having a meaningful personal life?  Perhaps surprisingly to some, the answer is to slow down. To actually do less and to ensure that what I choose to do has purpose.  My mindfulness practice has shown me new ways of working with my to-do list:

  • I now accept that I will never get everything done. [BTW, the same goes for you.] This means I go easier on myself and no longer berate myself or feel guilty if I haven’t done everything that I wanted to do. Going easier on yourself is a key component of any mindfulness practice. I have found that the more kindness I show myself whilst on the meditation cushion, the more kindness I can show myself off the cushion. [Another side-effect is that I also feel more compassionate towards others, so it’s definitely a win-win.]
  • Mindfulness teaches us to listen more closely to our bodies’ signals and clues. I have learned my signature pattern that wakes me up to the fact that I’m doing too much or expecting too much of myself. I notice a fluttering in my sternum/mild anxiety and a strong conviction/furrowing of my forehead that I am SO busy that I shouldn’t meditate or work-out or do anything self-nourishing as there are far more important things I need to be doing (warning alert – thoughts are not facts!). When these signs crop up, I know through experience that the best thing for me in that moment is to pause, watch my breath for at least twice as long as I feel I have time for and then ask myself “What is best for me in this moment? What is my next priority?”
  • I have realised that if I’ve carried something over from week to week to week, it’s a sign that either I don’t need to do it or I don’t have the right skills to complete it and I’m better off finding someone else who is. [This may not apply to you if you are generally a procrastinator.]

So as I open a brand new empty template to start planning my wedding, I will continue to revisit the words I have written on my office whiteboard:

Do less.  Do with purpose.

How do you find your body responding when you have a full to-do list? If you have a mindfulness practice I’d love to hear how it supports you. Or what other tools and techniques do you employ to manage your wellbeing when your to-do list is full?

PS: I drafted these words, my first ever blog this morning.  I had planned to work on it this week and perhaps, if I was feeling brave enough, publish it on Monday.  However I have just come across this video and I feel compelled to publish this earlier, as the messages in the video resonated so strongly with me.  “”If I were a young woman now, I would spend more time being, not doing.

This article first appeared at LinkedIn.


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