Johnny Cash famously had a to-do-list that included the following points; kiss June (his wife), not kiss anyone else, not eat too much, and worry. The points were things he could do everyday. It was, in essence, a today list.
This list seems easily achievable for most of us. And it’s something we should all look to implement into our lives. As the pandemic continues to hold its grip around us, many of us are stuck in the fantasy of being super productive within our new homebound surroundings. It should be easy, right? We gained back our commuting time. We’ve left the stress of the office behind. We get to sit in the comfort of our homes. We remind ourselves that if Sir Issac Newton could discover calculus and gravity during a quarantine, we sure as shit should be able to write more articles/learn to code/bake more/insert task here.
The reality is a little different. We’re finding that having our working-world turned upside down is not necessarily conducive to being more productive. We’re also dealing with what productivity expert Racheal Cook describes as the collective trauma of the pandemic. “Anxiety is up, depression is up. From a productivity standpoint, it’s challenging. We’re navigating these huge emotional hurdles with an uncertainty that most of us have never really experienced in our lifetime.”
And yet, we can’t resist sticking more and more tasks to our to-do-list to maximize this “free time” until it becomes the equivalent of dumping a huge stack of files on your desk. Social pressure tells us that we need to do more, start more, and learn more .
And now is the perfect time to do so.
But much like the comically high pile of papers, rather than make you more productive, the ever-growing list immediately fills you with dread and anxiety.
With the pandemic showing no sign of allowing us a return to ‘normal,’ we need to realize that we’re currently experiencing an unhealthy relationship with productivity, and we’d do well to take a step back. We need to reassess our expectations and lower the pressure we’re putting on ourselves and others.
The solution is surprisingly simple. Rather than look days, weeks, or months ahead, look no further than the next few hours by turning your to-do-list into a Today-List.
Changing a To-do list into a Today List
I’ve been performing this little morning routine for weeks now. Everywhere you look, my notebook is filled with little bullet point lists marked ‘today.’ A glance at a previous entry into my Today-List book looks like the following;
- Manage submissions (1–2 hours)
- Write newsletter
- Lunchtime walk with other half
- Follow up with Jessica
- Call Tom
You might be asking, is that it? It may well lack in size compared to yours, but luckily for me, it’s not a competition. Sure, it’s simple, underwhelming and almost certain to get ticked off at the end of the day — but that’s precisely the point. My to-do-lists no longer put a knot in my stomach. When I write them, I don’t immediately feel intimated by the words staring back at me. I breathe easy knowing I’ll score them all out at the end of the days play.
You may also being asking, why those tasks? A list focused on reducing stress has to be a balance of work and play. I make sure to put my most important work-related items at the top, and mix this with a few tasks designed to keep me healthy and happy, and retain focus on other important things in my life, like relationships.
The important trick with your Today List is to limit (yes, you read that right) the number of tasks. You’ve only got today after all. Remind yourself that this is not a bucket-list or your yearly to-do-list. The point of this exercise is to make your day less stressful. To ensure this, you need to be disciplined with your available time and set an appropriate number of tasks that you can actually achieve in that timeframe.
While we continue to adjust to our new surroundings, we need to accept that working within them isn’t as easy as we thought it would be. Rather than force yourself to be productive to breaking point, take a note from Johnny Cash, and make your list work for you, not against you.