I have a love/hate relationship with to-do lists. On the one hand, the structure they lend to my day can ease the mind. As unsexy as it sounds, I gravitate towards predictability and stability. To-do lists offer a roadmap, a track to follow. On the other hand, seeing all my tasks stretch down the page, screaming at me to DO MORE, MOVE FASTER – well, that fills me with dread and anxiety, too. There’s a point where the checkboxes make me feel controlled instead of in control, and I grow resentful. Even something like purchasing a birthday gift for a loved one can start to feel like just another thing I have to do.
Lately, I’ve been trying to make a conscious effort to shift my focus towards the things that I do have control over, as opposed to agonizing over the things beyond my reach. While I don’t always get to decide which tasks sit on my plate, or how much I must accomplish in a day, I can (for the most part) choose my attitude. I don’t want to look around at my life and see tasks. I want to see blessings and possibilities. I hold an immense amount of privilege; it’s about time I actively recognize it.
In an attempt to change my mindset, I rewrote my to-do list as a list of opportunities.
“Get Mother’s Day gifts” turned into an opportunity to show the mothers in my life how much I love and appreciate them.
“Edit client’s personal statement” turned into an opportunity to use my skills to help someone else achieve their goals.
“Grocery shopping” turned into an opportunity to fill my kitchen with delicious, nutritious foods to enjoy throughout the week.
Cheesy? Yes. But did this exercise help me feel more excited about my day? Absolutely. I transferred the emphasis away from loss (what the tasks took away from me, like energy or time) towards gain (what I could offer to myself or to others). This exercise also compelled me to stop victimizing myself over the littlest things and to start acknowledging the power I actually have in each situation. In nerdy grammatical terms, it’s like living in active voice instead of passive voice.
I may not do this every single day or for every single task. But for those moments when I’m feeling particularly overwhelmed, I’ll turn to this practice to reset, reframe, and reclaim my day.