Since this blog is about the art and science of living simpler, it seems like a lot of the readers (and writers) are fairly goal-oriented. ‘Simple living’ is more of a journey than a destination, so this pretty much makes sense.
This journey type of mindset implies goal setting, which I’m all about, of course—but the problem with a continual focus on goals is that we unintentionally orient our day to day living with tasks. We become task-oriented people instead of relationship oriented, and we end up equating a “good day” with whether we get a lot done.
I like to-do lists, and I make one near daily—I admit, I like checking things off (and come on, you know you’ve added something after you’ve done it just so you can check it off). But an issue arises when we focus all our energy, all our efforts towards these “to-do” tasks, because you know as well as I that we very rarely cross off an entire list in one day.
And does an unfinished to-do list make a bad day? Of course not. In fact, you could adjust your sails just a bit and scribble out a list of things you don’t plan on doing—and cross those things off when you succeed in not doing them. A to-don’t list. Perhaps your not doing them could equal a productive, thoughtful day.
I’ve been thinking about this recently, since my family and I are getting ready to travel for about six weeks. You know what it’s like when you’re prepping for a trip. You stop going to the grocery store so you can eat out the pantry and fridge, you start orienting your calendar towards the countdown departure date, and if you’re smart, you slowly start adding things to the suitcases as you do the laundry. (I don’t do that last bit, but it’s a lovely idea nonetheless.)
We’re in this phase right now, so what we’re not currently doing is at the forefront of my mind. And I’ve decided that it’s a good idea to do this more often in my regular life—to notice what I’m intentionally not doing just as much as what I’m getting done. I’m going to start make a to-don’t list more often.
Here’s part of my current to-don’t list:
• Don’t tackle larger house projects right now
• Don’t think about spring gardening
• Don’t set aside money for next Christmas (since our next holiday season will be decidedly unorthodox)
• Don’t be on a Whole 30
• Don’t stay up too late
• Don’t wake up too early
• Don’t sign up for a local farm co-op
• Don’t get involved in our homeschool co-op
• Don’t sign up the kids for spring sports
• Don’t empty my email inbox
• Don’t say yes to the thousand (well-meaning) requests sitting in my inbox
• Don’t try to understand Google Plus
• Don’t feel guilty about not planning one thing for Valentine’s Day (we’ll be on the road)
• Don’t work all hours of the day
• Don’t do everything I could possibly do to promote my upcoming book
• Don’t worry about planning our Big Trip
• Don’t keep Facebook open when I’m trying to write
• Don’t feel guilty about our daughter not having a birthday party this year
• Don’t volunteer at church
• Don’t get involved in a book club
And here’s the funny thing with writing this—my knee-jerk reaction is to justify a few of these to you. I want to explain to you why we’re not doing a farm co-op right now, or that we DO do some of these things sometimes. I want to make sure you know I do stuff. Which is totally and completely silly.
We get so wrapped up about Getting Stuff Done, or about defining our value in our accomplishments, our busyness. But is that really what life’s all about? Crossing off a to-do list isn’t a bad thing, but this isn’t the core of our life’s meaning, what really makes up the sum purpose of our days.
So notice what you don’t want to accomplish, just as much as you do. And if it’s hard for you to even think of what you don’t want to do, ask yourself if you’re trying to do too much—or, at least feel like you’re supposed to do more than what’s possible. Because it’s perfectly okay—no, it’s AWESOMELY okay—that you don’t do stuff. Really. Slow down and smell the roses, and if you’re too busy to get a whiff, it’s time to make a to-don’t list.
I’d love to hear what’s on your to-don’t list right now.