Do to-dos ever end? I don’t think so. There is always, always, always more that could be done. It’s not hard to find another link to click, another social media feed to refresh, another show to start watching. I always have one more item to add to the grocery list, one more coupon to clip, one more room to tidy. Laundry and dishes are endless, and with a toddler and baby running around, toys are only ever put away if everyone is sleeping. I always have a friend I’d like to reach out to, another chapter to read, another writing idea to jot down. It never ends.
My perfectionist tendencies (coupled with my high “input” strength, I think) make me want to write down every. single. potential. thing. I want all of it on a list, right now. I suppose that’s fine, and maybe for some people, it’s even helpful to get those tasks out of their heads and onto paper.
But for me, every unchecked box and incomplete task seems to read, “Failure.” Each person not contacted says, “Not friendly enough” or “not reliable enough,” each dish unwashed says, “Not clean enough,” and each link unread says, “Not informed enough.”
You don’t need me to tell you how exhausting this internal narrative can be, and I know I don’t need to articulate how downright silly it is to let these small details derail my sense of self, sense of purpose, and sense of accomplishment. So, I’m changing the narrative. I’ve learned to embrace an enough list instead of a to-do list.
I first read about this idea from Melissa Camara Wilkins, who writes, “…an Enough list isn’t a list of everything you could possibly do in a day. It’s a list of what will be enough for today.”
Practically speaking, here’s how it works. Each day, I choose only 3-5 tasks or projects I want to complete. (Sometimes, these are simply the things I want to get done, like finishing a book or mailing a letter; they may not be urgent, but they are important or enjoyable to me.) Those are the tasks I write down, and this becomes my “enough” list. And as I look at my list on any given day, I repeat two things to myself:
- These 3 things are enough for today.
- And even if these 3 things don’t get done, I am enough.
Maybe it’s silly or just semantics, but I find that it matters. If more gets accomplished on any given day (and usually it does), then that’s just icing on the cake. I am no longer overwhelmed by all the tasks, and I’m able to approach my day with a little more flexibility and more reasonable expectations.
We live in a productivity-obsessed culture, in which we track steps and develop systems and move through our days as if running down a perpetual moving sidewalk. But I want to be motivated less by checked boxes and more by a deep and abiding sense of purpose, freedom, and joy. I want to lay my head down at night and never, ever question if I did or was enough.
My friend Rebekah recently wrote about how she’s taking back her own to-do lists. You can read that post here.