Resilience: life is more than a to-do list

Ever wonder if you’ll ever get through your to-do list, so you can finally take a break without guilt? If your list is ‘self-regenerating’ like mine, if you never seem to get though, living has become a to-do list.

My list this month is a mile long. It starts early morning and could easily end when I crash into bed after midnight, every night. And being self-employed, I have nowhere to go to lighten up my load: it starts and it ends with me.

I have two choices: I can overwork myself into exhaustion (and oblivion, ending without resilience or reserves), or I can step back, look at the big picture and assess my options. In the past, I’ve done a little of both, until I finally realized that I, and I alone, had control over my to-do list. Small breaks and fun times are fuel. So is a sit-down meal, enough sleep and leaving work at a reasonable time – there will always be more to do, and since I do it all on my list, I might as well decide when enough is enough. Running myself into oblivion is never a wise choice.

Getting to this point took me years of ‘burn and crash’: I’d get overwhelmed, I’d get sick, and it would take me weeks to recover.  Weeks that I couldn’t work, so at the end, it ended up pretty much the same as I would by allowing myself time off to rest before I got sick.  Burning out took away my quality of life, health and resilience. Not good.

This was my personal epiphany, and it took me pneumonia, a kidney infection, and a few more bouts of serious illness to realize that the way I worked was unsustainable.  I was paying for my to-do list with my health and my LIFE.  Talk about a wake-up call.  I learned first-hand the consequences of an unending to-do list does: total and utter depletion.

I know better now: I don’t want to shortchange my right to health and life.  I choose to take breaks; I take time off; I make what most matters to me come first: family, personal life, health.   Work takes a smaller space in my life than it did.  I feel much better.

There is so much more to life than coping.  You’ll end up taking a break from your to-do list, whether you have time or not.  It can be the break you allow yourself to have and enjoy, or it can be a break despite yourself – getting sick or burned out.

Stop taking life as a to-do list: I can hear you listing out all the things you must do.  How busy you are.  How irreplaceable you are.  Yet, in a pinch, I’m pretty sure you could triage and delete 50% of your list – right away, no guilt, with all these things that matter less, the low-priority stuff that makes up most to-do’s.

What are the things that truly matter on your list?  Not the urgent menial, but the big chunks that give your life meaning, when all is said and done.  You create your list, and you’re the only one who can control what goes on it or not.   My to-do list can be chockfull of things that don’t belong to me at all, or that I keep because maybe some day, I’ll have the time (or energy) for it all.  But life as a to-do list?  It sucks life right out.

De-clutter your life and your to-do list: identify what you’ll remember as important; then what is not.  Delete what’s not.  Dropping things off your list can be a wise option, and it can give you back your life – guilt-free.



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