I was taken recently by the question of what my “To-Do” lists really do for me? I’ve made them and crossed things off for years. There are seasons in which these seemingly helpful lists prove a profitable exercise; a place to deposit the endless undone things I must attend to. Certainly, they can be helpful in acknowledging things that are necessary and need my attention. In other seasons, these lists, or at least the propensity to create them, feel more like a perpetual exercise in all the things that are undone. It is as if they are frantically waving their arms to point to what I’m not accomplishing.
In conversation with someone the other day, I came to consider what would it be like to make a “To-NOT-Do” list – a list of the things I do not need to be doing. What on earth would a list like that contain? Might this list be one that offers me some needed permission to care for myself; to see myself as more than what I accomplish or cross off? Am I able to allow or consider things I don’t want to do apart from my inclination to be productive? Can I approach this list without a shame-motivation but from a desire for space and freedom and creativity?
A quick flash of what this list would look like might be something like:
I don’t know what this would look like for you, but my list came to me pretty quickly, so I’m aware of my need for the gifts that not doing each of them would offer. It also seemed that I could find a lot of other things to put on this list that don’t appear here. What has kept me from making a list like this, I wondered?
It seems that the messages we receive culturally, and those we create internally, are often driven by shame that we need to accomplish or perform to be accepted, to be worthy, to be enough. That sure feels true for me when I look at my “To-Do” lists. I do NOT sense that when I look at my “To-NOT-Do” list above. This list feels like it has kindness present in it; an open space for me engage with my desires and intentions, and with others as they are.
What might you have on your own “To-NOT-Do” list?
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Dane Anthony is the Director of Spiritual Formation for Sage Hill Counseling. He also co-facilitates multiple groups each week and teaches various classes. Learn more about Dane or email him at email@example.com.