to-do lists

the Dark Side of Achieving

There's a lot about being a high achiever that works for me. I love me some lists. The satisfaction I feel when I get to cross something off my list is a mini-high that keeps me going. If I do something that wasn't on my list, I'll add just so I can cross it off (admit it - you do it, too). My calendar is my best friend. It lays out my day in an organized way so that I know what I'm doing when and what I'm focusing on for the day. I can be type A about details. I can stay high-level when it makes sense, but I do like to know the ins and outs of any given situation. There's more, but I'm sure you get the gist. All of this works for me. Except for when it didn't. 

The double-edged sword of being a high achiever is that the same qualities that make you so awesome can also limit your forward movement.

When I first left my day-job, what I expected to be a brilliant sensation of freedom and lightness was instead a weird fog through which I meandered. I didn't know what to spend my time on. Hell, I couldn't even think straight. It was like someone had reached into my skull and mashed a bunch of neurons around. Obviously, I knew what I needed to be working on, but the gap between that and getting started felt more like a chasm. What the hell was my problem??

I'll tell you what my problem was: no one was telling me what to do.

I didn't have outside input for my list. Outlook was gone from my life and it had ruled my days for so long that living without it meant I spent too much time thinking about what to do first or next. When I made my own lists, I realized with anxiety that everything on it was new to me. I hadn't done a lot of it before, so there was no quick "I'll just knock this out" and move on available to me. I had been a speed-doer all my life.

Efficient like a machine until this experience showed me that my efficiency came from a place of mindlessness.

My list used to full of to-dos that I could get through quickly, without a lot of thought required because I had reached "expert" status on the tasks and activities that filled my days. You may be asking, "What's wrong with that? Isn't that a good thing?"

It's not a good thing when you realize you can do most of your life on autopilot. Where's the energy? The inspiration? 

The lives of high achievers are hyper-focused on accomplishment. You have to be productive, busy, efficient. Your tasks are measurable - there is an end product that you can see or touch. It's working for you, right? People tell you how good you are, the boss notices so you get the raise/bonus/promotion. You're rewarded for being this way.

But operating in this manner begins to narrow the tunnel around your mind.

tunnel.png

Doing is more important than being. Making sure everyone else gets what they need trumps any fleeting desire you may have for putting yourself on your to-do list. This is the stuff of burnout, my friends. It's repetitive. What used to be exciting can become rote. You do it to get through it. You start living for the weekends and rushing through your list so you can avoid opening your laptop at night. 

Life is not about moving from task to the next. You aren't here simply to produce and achieve. You're here to be. To experience. 

So how do you fix it? You begin by putting yourself on the list. 

Each day, put one thing on your to-do list that is all about YOU. It doesn't matter how small it is. Five minutes for meditation or journaling, a ten-minute walk, thirty minutes for a coffee meeting with a friend, the workout that you keep meaning to do but haven't made the time for. Once it's on your list, HONOR IT.

You should not be the first thing to get booted from your list.

If it makes you uncomfortable to think about putting yourself on the list and keeping yourself there, good. That's natural. You're not used to being a priority, and that little voice in your mind is going to pipe up with all kinds of useless input like "Are you sure you should be doing this?", "You don't have time for this", or "It's selfish - you should be doing x, y or z." This is your opportunity to tune in and see what's really going on in your mind. What are you telling yourself? How are you keeping yourself stuck? Observe, jot it down, then do the thing that's for you, anyway. 

I want to hear from you! How did it feel? What did you realize?