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to hell with to-do

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I find it funny when people suggest I am good at being organized. Perhaps I am “the organized one” in my family of origin. But this illusion seems to be encouraged by my affinity for making and following lists. These lists, often known as to-do lists, have proved helpful in hectic or grievous circumstances as they help provide focus and make it possible to discern what is important, urgent, an interruption, or a welcome diversion.

However, when it comes to setting goals, to-do lists feel like time-bombs ticking in my brain. Several of my former students witnessed the after-effects of these explosions as a sat on my office floor, surrounded by piles of papers, trying to find some orientation in the surrounding crowd of priorities. Since I no longer have an office floor for my thoughts to explode out on, I have come to find that to-do lists simply instigate my compulsive tendencies. My jaws tighten and tunnel-vision sets in. I begin to ignore my body’s need to eat, drink, rest, or contemplate. The compulsive actions seem to happen without awareness—only going forward with a bold confidence that thrives on escalating stresses created through excitement and achievement. It is not joy or happiness. It is not complete or compassionate. Any pleasure of success does not belong to me, but to the compulsion.  Sadly, such behaviors can be easily mistaken for motivation, determination, or excitement—which is why its existence is so strong. It has been nurtured greatly and for too long.


I am happy to say that it has been two weeks since I have made a to-do list! This is especially important as plans to buy commercial property and open a bookstore are growing each day. I do make notes of appointments and events in my calendar, but I am no longer filling up every blank space with what I “need” to do before those times come. No more scratched out lists on the backs of envelopes. Instead, I have been keeping track of my accomplishments with an all-done board. I post the contact info of people I have met, I post quotes from important conversations, I acknowledge my achievements, like setting up the blog or going out in town when I’d rather just stay in my house. It is still in the works, mostly residing in my head and on the inside of a file folder. But, I really love the concept because it places events in the context of how the experience felt. Plus, it is much more celebratory and satisfying than checking off items and throwing them away.


About Rachel

Rachel is an independent artist and writer who thrives on sharing her deep appreciation for the natural world. She has taught college courses in wildlife identification, ethnobotany, environmental science, natural resource management, and cultural studies. She lives in North Dakota with her two boys, husband, dog, and cats. She enjoys gardening, cooking, drawing, writing, hunting, hiking, and snowshoeing, but is usually too tired to do any of these, except for writing...

2 responses »

  1. Pingback: learning to work again |

  2. Pingback: Learning to Let Go: Excitment and Motivation | Pages of Paradigm

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