Choices, Mindfulness

From To-Do to Done

Eero Saarinen list
Eero Saarinen’s list of Aline Bernstein’s good qualities, ca. 1954.

Every day I wake up to a checklist panting in my face. Every day for my entire adult life. I never considered questioning it. Bottomless need? Multiplying demands? Expect only this, nothing less, certainly nothing different. Tasks on the to-do list comprise a responsible life.

Wake up and get to work, Smirk.

Oi vey, what a wretched way to start each day.

Despite my habitual reliance on it, this forever regenerating list of chores may not serve as the most effective motivator for productivity. The past few years, I’ve heeded the advice of the Disciples of Mindfulness to pull gratitude in a bit closer. They say to begin with an appreciation, a blessing. So I’ll wake up, feel the hot breath of need on my neck, and say, “A bird sings right outside my window. My son sleeps safe in his bed. The pooch stirs. The fridge contains a healthy stock of food. Good teachers wait in the classroom for my kiddo.” The moment of thanks fills the room before my feet  even touch the ground. This opens the eyes to a fuller spectrum of light.

Even so, it only delays the gotta-do-gotta-go by a few measly seconds.

I didn’t realize anything else was an option. Until one of the gals on the History Chicks mentioned her Done list. A revelation to me, though apparently others figured this out ages ago. After getting all cozy in bed at night, you open your journal and write down the things you did during the day. Every little success, every accomplishment. Every hug, task, walk. Every room tidied. Every bill paid. Every accidental interaction. Every unexpected win.

Then you check everything off, tear it out, throw it away.

Or not. Because if you’re like me, you want to keep this catalogue of everyday accomplishments. If you’re like me, someday soon, you’ll need a reminder that you’ve made at least one good thing happen in the world, even if it’s only sharing a chuckle with a neighbor chuckle as you slip-slide past each other in a snowstorm.

  • Walked the dog four times
  • Ran three miles and lifted with the 25 pound free-weights
  • Washed and dried all the sheets, and even re-made the beds
  • Wrote a whole blog post
  • Read a few more chapters of Gene Sharp’s From Dictatorship to Democracy
  • Made it to trivia despite the storm
  • Exchanged books on anarchism with a friend

Now I can hit the lights knowing that Done snuggles up next to To-Do. They lie together in another room behind a door across distances I don’t need to measure. With each other for company, they don’t needle me for attention all night long. They don’t come diving into my bed first thing in the morning. They’re starting to learn how to stay put, resting easy, until I’ve opened into the day and readied myself to call them in.

Image: Aline and Eero Saarinen papers, 1857-1972. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Art; copyright F+W Media Inc. 2011. Posted on Brain Pickings

3 thoughts on “From To-Do to Done”

  1. The price of democracy is eternal vigilance – or so I heard somewhere. On the home front, vigilance equates to the eternal To-Do list. We have all had enough of that Politically speaking – maybe it would be better if we all asked ourselves: “What have I done??”

  2. That’s a great idea. Since to do lists get ever longer, it’s so easy for what you’ve already accomplished to get lost in the mix. Also, I know that not everyone has the luxury to do this, but I usually try to start my day with a couple of minutes of something I’m passionate about. That way I feel like I’m not ruled by my to dos…well…not completely anyway.

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