In this post, Patricia Wilson, author of Quiet Spaces: Prayer Interludes for Women, shares how she is finally learning to get out from under the vicious cycle constantly worrying about having too much to do.
And then, do your spend your day with that same to-do list, worrying that time is flying by, angry when things don’t go the way you planned, worrying that the list isn’t getting any shorter?
Finally, you fall into bed. Do you go right to sleep or do you begin to think about that list again, not rejoicing in what you got accomplished but obsessing over what still needs to be done?
It’s a familiar, vicious pattern–one that affects so many of us, myself included. I call it The Tyranny of To-Do.
Now, before I go any further, I should point out that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who make to-do lists, and those who don’t. However, don’t think for a moment that the people who don’t make lists are immune to tyranny. They’re just as vulnerable, even though their lists may not be on paper. Their lists are in their heads and they are held hostage to what has to be done just as strongly as the paper list makers.
The problem with either of these methods for list-making is that they take over your life. Your day is now split up into little time compartments: 20 minutes for that phone call, an hour for the meeting, 10 minutes to pick up the dry cleaning, 45 minutes to fill out the application forms, and so on. On paper (or in your brain), it all seems possible, but then there’s a traffic tie-up on your route to work, or the meeting runs overtime, or you forgot to plug in your cell phone, or you spill coffee on your shirt. Life just doesn’t cooperate with your list.
I know that I have to get things done. In my busy life, I can’t afford to just ignore my to-do list and follow the siren call of “let’s just play it all by ear.” It sounds good, looks good on paper even, but the sad truth is that most of us have responsibilities, obligations, even promises to keep, and the things on our lists are Important! and Can’t Be Ignored! (I put in the caps and the exclamation marks because that’s how I feel when my husband suggests I just forget the list and relax).
So, how do we manage to keep our lists but not be imprisoned by them?
It’s taken a long time, but I’m finally learning how to get out from under the stress of my to-do lists. Whenever I’m faced with a particularly busy day, I consciously stay in bed for another minute or two (instead of leaping up and rushing to get the day underway) and allow myself to think of what is ahead of me. Then, again consciously, I give the to-do list of the day to God. I ask my Creator to be in charge of the list and to give me whatever I need to handle the day ahead. Then, and only then, I get up, and once again, consciously, do not rush. This is hardest for me since I tend to be someone who is in full head-on collision mode most of the time.
By not rushing, I am telling God I trust that my prayer has been heard, and I am telling myself that God has it all in hand so I don’t have to stress and hurry.
During the day, when I find myself tensing up–I slow down. It’s a counter-intuitive move, but once again, it reminds me of who is in charge of my list.
When I feel pushed for time, I remind myself that the God of infinite time, my God, will provide me with the time I need. And I don’t rush.
I’m not saying this is easy. I fail as often as I succeed. But slowly, I am building the habit of giving that demanding to-do list to God and letting myself go with the flow of God’s grace and of God’s time.
As you begin this process of freeing yourself from the Tyranny of To-Do, make it a habit to remind yourself of the promises that set you apart as a Christian. Think of the abundant life that is yours, or the promise of strength to do all things, or, my personal favourite, “In all these things we have complete victory through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37, Good News Bible).