Can You Get Rid of Your To Do List?

We lead busy lives. So busy that many of us have ‘to do’ lists whether they are written on paper or on an application on your iPhone or iPad so when something unexpected comes up in our lives, the ‘to do’ list gets thrown out the window – or it grows!

Last week, an Armani dressed surgeon prodded my stomach and after I fell from the ceiling into bed with screaming pain, he looked at me quite sadly and said, “You need an appendectomy.”  Admittedly the first thing that went through my mind was, “oh thankfully, some time off from work to rest and recover!”  The second thought was a squeal of delight as I thought that that the time off would allow me to do what I love to do – and that is cross off items in my ever increasing ‘to do’ list.  Of course, the surgeon must have read my mind because he instantly replied, “and I will give you some time to recover – and I mean, rest, no work, just take it easy.”

“I like this man,” I thought.

“Helen, what do you do?” he asked.

“I’m an instructional designer,” I replied.  When I say to people what I do, I quickly have to add in, “I write training material” because no one understands my job.

“Ah, just the person I need at the moment.  I need some help to write up some competencies. I keep putting it off but this is something that you can do? Yes?”

“Yep, too easy,” gripping my sides in pain and thinking that if it is this easy to pick up new contract work from a hospital bed then I shouldn’t worry too much about future work.  “Bear in mind though, I do charge by the hour.”  (I thought a surgeon would appreciate knowing that I was upfront with my consultancy charge).

“But wouldn’t you give me the first hour for free?” he asked. Great, I have someone who wants to haggle while I’m in pain.

“Nope, no freebies I’m afraid.  What I can guarantee you is that I’ll get it right the first time and you never have to see me again….much like what I hope will happen when you get my appendix out!” I cried in agony.

With that, he smiled and pulled the curtain aside with aplomb and I didn’t see him again until he greeted me again behind a surgical mask and  the glaring operating room theatre lamp like a halo behind his head.  Just before I went under the anesthetic, he had the audacity to ask if I would reconsider my charge rates.  Unfortunately I lost all my senses and have no idea what I said in response before I fell into a deep sleep.

So where was I going with all this?

Basically, sometimes when our lives are so utterly chaotic, something happens that puts them back in balance  – something that makes us sit up, take note and think that we don’t have to go at these crazy speeds.  Luckily, this time for me it was an appendectomy.  (Unluckily for me some years ago, after sheer exhaustion from work, I fainted in the shower one morning, fell out of the glass shower door, smashed my face against the basin and lost many teeth and fractured my jaw).  So when a surgeon tells you to “take it easy” and “not to go back to work” then I’ve learned to follow instructions. I simply don’t go back to work – nor do I check my work emails from home (for they will stress me out), I don’t take phone calls, I don’t catch up with written work that needs to be completed.  In effect, I give myself the opportunity for a complete ‘cut off’ from anything that is not controlled by me.

I’m a fairly organised person and for many years have structured my life with To Do lists. I like putting a line across tasks completed as it gives me a sense of completion and satisfaction.  Of course, on my iPhone I do use the app to write my tasks to do but I have found that just tapping ‘delete’ with my finger does not give me the relief as much as putting a black texta marker across the task.  I mean, look at this screen. Doesn’t this simply bore you?

Boring boring boring to do list

Instead, I have a small green notebook that goes everywhere with me.  I find colourful, joyful note pads simply more ‘tactile’ than the iPhone.

My To Do Notebook

In this notebook, I write all the tasks I need to complete during the day or over the week.  As they are completed, I cross them off and derive much pleasure from seeing pages like the one below…

Ah – all done!

So many people may be pleasantly surprised that I don’t use any new and innovative apps or technologies but as a ‘Digital Immigrant’ Gen Xer, the notebook will always be by my side.  I find that actually writing the task down on paper, with my own hands is more preferable than tapping it into a keyboard and pressing delete.  Besides, I always like to flick back through the pages and recall those tasks and what was going on in my life then.  If I wrote them on a computer, they would have been lost forever.

An original version of Google Maps

My notebook also serves me well as my directory.  Sure, I use Google Maps often but sometimes I simply need to draw out the maps to where I’m going because I remember it – and frankly, it’s a lot quicker than turning the phone on and tapping in the location I need.  Sometimes I think “what if I was being chased by a homicidal maniac and I had to quickly get directions to safety?”  I think that using the technology like iPhones would mean I would waste valuable critical time as I tried to recall which app to use; what button to press; wait for the link to load etc while the knife wielding maniac would have gained ground.  That’s why sometimes, nothing beats a notebook for speed.   (Of course, I am being whimsical…)

So while I am now recovering from my appendectomy, I do have some tasks that I need to do but I have left them on the list and put away the texta marker.  They can wait.  Nothing will happen if I don’t do them – and guess what, I don’t even care.  Many of the to do items are all work related but I figure that I can get to them next week when I start back at work again and they can have my full focus – but for now, my full focus is on my health – and that means only doing those tasks that give me pleasure and only the ones that I can control.

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About Activate Learning Solutions

Helen Blunden is the founder of Activate Learning Solutions and Third Place. She has over 20 years of experience within learning and development across private, public and not-for-profit organisations. With a specialty in performance consulting and networked learning, Helen believes that workplace learning is integral to business success. She has a passion for enabling people to learn beyond the classroom and believes in the power of networks and communities to drive collaboration and meaning within the organisation. From facilitator-led instruction, online and blended, Helen deploys social and informal learning such as enterprise social networking, collaboration tools and emerging technologies that have been proven successful and embedded workplace change.
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