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Tired of Having A Neverending To-Do List? Use It To Your Advantage

In: Marketing,

You don’t have time for anything.

You’ve got five tabs open on your browser, glaring, bold-faced emails that require responses, glaring, bold-faced bosses that require answers, and a family that, later, will require your last tattered, surviving joule of energy, before you hurriedly run an Oral B across your choppers, pray that there’s a clean pair of sweats (please let there be sweats!), and bellyflop face-first onto your bed, whose sheets really could use a good washing.   If only you had the time.

As you lay there, your mind sprints a 100 yard-dash through a mental purgatory of phone calls to return, errands to run, cards to remember to send, functions to attend, appointments to keep–did I get my car inspected on time?!–basketball games to cheer on, gym time to log, whether or not you can still pull off spandex, and why on earth anyone would buy a pair of those plastic neon sunglasses with the lines through them.

You turn, toss and kick the tangled covers off of your feet in a child-like fit of frustration.

You don’t have time for anything.

In fact, you barely have time to read this. (And I barely had time to write it.)

Back in the office, you won’t have time for a lunch break. (And your boss won’t have time to read the report you’ll spend your lunch break typing.)

You won’t have time to cook a healthy meal for dinner. (And your doctor won’t have time to answer your questions regarding your impending hypertension.)

You won’t have time to be intimate with your significant other. (And your significant other won’t have time to end it with you face-to-face before leaving.)

You won’t have time to take a vacation this year. (And when making layoffs, corporate won’t have time to notice.)

You won’t have time to go the speed limit. (And the paramedics won’t have time to revive you.)

You won’t have time to live your life. (And your life won’t have time to create many memories worth remembering.)

And thereafter, your friends won’t have time to mourn, before they’ll hastily rush back to work in fear of “falling behind,” as they, too, skip their lunch breaks and forfeit their vacation in the name of getting ahead.

At what point did productivity become worth dying for?

At what point did we stop feeling, and just start doing?

At what point did our lives turn into a never-ending assembly line, where the work is never done and we are never done?

And at what point did we become okay with it?

Using The Neverending To-Do List To Your Advantage

Granted, in line with basic human needs, there will always be something else to do in the name of survival. Kill-woolly-mammoth-for-food, for example, or generate-income-to-purchase-food, for a more relevant example. Add on an assortment of self-inflicted obligations on top of societal ones, and juxtapose them with present-day standards of living, and you’ve got yourself one heck of a to-do list–one that, no matter how hard you try, will never, ever be complete.  Until you’re dead, that is.

As daunting as that seems, the fact that life’s to-do list will never be complete is, contrary to instinct, to your advantage. So is the fact that you’re not dead, in case you haven’t had time to notice.

The advantage is this:  Since there’s always going to be something else to do, forever and ever and ever and ever and ever, so help me Jehovah, Jabbodah, Jeremiah or Jay-Z, it logically follows that it would be impossible to get everything done.

And if it’s impossible to get everything done, then why are we in such a hurry to achieve an impossible goal? (Overachievers.  Sheesh.)

The Point




In my view, we could all really benefit if we could learn to reprogram our internal Tom-Toms from “fastest route” to “scenic route,” because otherwise, we will arrive much sooner than we ever imagined, without having seen any of the pretty lakes, rivers, valleys, fields, forests, deer, wild boar, or David The Gnome.  And wouldn’t you jump at the chance to see David The Gnome, even just to give him a high five for that sweet red hat?

That sounds like I’m promoting drug usage.  I’m not.  I don’t…I just…I just….ah, forget it.

This Is Not New Information

When it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter how many ridiculous metaphors I use, you already know that you have to slow down.  We all know that.  You’ve probably had mini heart-to-hearts with yourself over the years, telling yourself the very same thing.  You’ve made promises to read more books for leisure, spend more time playing Mario Kart with the kids, take long, drawn-out baths and maybe even try yoga.

So why haven’t you?

You fantasize about putting the world on pause, hanging a giant “Do Not Disturb” sign right on that which is your life, and curling up with a Harlequin romance. (Don’t deny.)

But you can’t, right?

Because there’s no remote control for the world–not even a mute button–and if you hesitate for even a moment, someone will come along who’s better, faster, more capable than you, and before you know it, you’ll be left in the dust.

That’s the fear, isn’t it?

Guess what:  It’s time to wind up big and give that fear a fresh one, because the only thing that’ll be left in the dust is your guilty conscience.  Bring on the Harlequins, I say.

While it’s true that we will always have something to do, and it may feel like we’re working on a 24/7 assembly line with no end in sight, that doesn’t mean we can’t kick the conveyor belt down a notch and take our good, sweet time.  Periodic dance parties purely optional.  Henry Ford is not behind you with a whip.  The only one rushing you…is you.

A Little Experiment

Try this:

Tomorrow, walk really slowly.

It’s that simple.  Walking slowly on purpose always helps me feel more calm, in general, and forces me to slow everything else down.  Give your brain the uncommon treat of being able to simply trot along peacefully, without having to race.  Take the time to smell the air, and not just smell it, but really inhale it.  Notice things.  Notice yourself.  Notice how you feel.   Notice who you are.

Revel in the peace of mind & unexpected relief that comes with not having to be the fastest, if only for today.

Let people think you drive like grandma and yell obscenities out the window. Who cares?  Just crank the tunes.


Note: Might be useful to have a video camera on hand. Recording other people getting angry because you’re not rushing through your life like they are might prove to be disturbingly delightful.

Stop being impatient. Anxious. Intolerant. Demanding. Short. Tense. High-strung. Temperamental.

Take a deep breath, and slow it down, Gonzalez!   Make a conscious effort, if for no other reason than it feels good.   Despite appearances, you are completely in control of your time and how you operate.   Don’t forget it.   Getting the world’s most productive person award is not worth sacrificing the quality of your experience here on earth.   Actually, it’s not even worth trading your black jellybeans for, since it doesn’t even exist.

Chill out. And in the meantime, you should definitely have a lasso on hand–after all, who needs a muse if you’ve captured a gnome?


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50 thoughts on "Tired of Having A Neverending To-Do List? Use It To Your Advantage"

  1. TMFproject says:

    Funny you said that–I am responding to this from my Blackberry in my car as I wait for a girlfriend to meet me for lunch—I need to take my own advice!

    Your comment was great (and it definitely doesn't matter when I posted something!) and I laughed when you talked about the inbox competition. Its so (eerily) true. I remember walking into the office and being happy to have a ton of emails, and if I had to guess, I'd say that its because it makes us feel important. To-do lists make us feel important, as if we've got important things to do (even if they aren't, in relative terms). Is this a a cruel game of narcissism?

    52,000 emails. Ugh. I can only imagine how that person would be able to easily say, “I'm sorry, I just can't deal with this. I've got 52,000 emails waiting for me.” It's an indirect way of saying, “I am important. More important than you.”

    Man, that was cynical of me, eh?

    Thanks so much for the comment. Great points!

  2. Caroline L says:

    One thing that my short stature impacts is the length of my stride. I walk slowly relative to just about everyone but the elderly. My stride rate is about the same, but when my stride length is compared to that of my friend Andy's stride length, it's about half. This is because Andy is 6 4. His waistband comes to my shoulder.

    The point of the paragraph above? I naturally walk slowly. Perhaps that's why I'm almost the only one to notice the gorgeous campus where I live.

    1. TMFproject says:

      This is so, so cool of you to mention here. What a neat thing–you don't have a choice to walk slow, so it's forced you to really be able to take in much more of the world than many people do. Rest assured, this is to your advantage. That's great.

      Thank you for this! 🙂

  3. Karen J says:

    This is rather bizarre: the link for this post shows as, and it *says* at the top that there’s 51 comments, but I’m not seeing any of ’em!
    “Be the first to comment” ??? WTF?
    Good hunting to your blog-technician in tracking it down!

    Great post, too, BTW 😉