Who Are You — Without Your To-Do List?

by | Jul 13, 2021

Anxious? Rebalance your day with mindfulness and meaningful work instead of checking off a to-do list. Here’s how I changed my perspective and realigned my vision for Blue Fjord Leaders.

Understanding My To-Do List Anxiety

It was the first morning of my business/personal retreat. I’d flown across the country to spend three days at a resort to relax, think, and plan. Sitting on the patio in a warm breeze with my tea, I asked myself, “So, Shelley, how do you feel?” Without hesitation my mind answered, “ANXIOUS.”  Errrrrck….what? Anxious? I was here for the opposite of “anxious.” What’s up? I had cleared my calendar and set the out-of-office email. I purposely didn’t have an agenda. THIS was the time to be calm not anxious.

How do we overcome to-do list anxiety? We spend so much time and energy focused on accomplishing stuff, achieving goals, and checking off the to-do list that we can lose focus on WHY we’re doing all this in the first place. That’s when life goes out of balance.

Instead of relaxing, my mind was racing: What am I supposed to do now? There’s no to-do list, no plan. What if I fail at relaxing? What if I spend all this time and money and don’t accomplish what I’m here for….whatever THAT is. I feel reckless and irresponsible without my to-do list. Looking back at that moment, I’m simultaneously surprised and not surprised by my reaction.

How to Rebalance Your Energy

Ultimately, I found a way forward that helped me take an honest look at myself and rebalance how I was allocating my energy. (We tend to focus on time, but I recommend that you think about the expenditure of your energy.) Here are four steps that assist in rebalancing your life without the distraction of a to-do list.

1. Get still.
For me, a meditation class allowed me to get quiet and get still. Quiet and still are not the same thing (more on that another time). In the stillness, my head cleared, and anxiety settled.  What can you do to create time for stillness in your world?  It doesn’t take much but it does take a little.

2. Identify your joy.
Take a moment to ask yourself these two questions. Write out the answers.
Ask: What gives me joy?

Think about what you are doing when you feel happiest. What are you doing when you say, “That was fun!” Here’s my list:

  • Warm night outside on my deck with a glass of wine and a book
  • Being around mountains or water
  • Paddle boarding and kayaking on a warm morning
  • Good food and wine
  • Thoughtful conversation over dinner with friends
  • Dancing
  • Travel that is thought provoking, new, and active
  • Hiking in an interesting, beautiful place
  • Reading a well-written book
  • Attending theater and musical performances

Ask: What gives me joy at work?
What are you doing when you feel most satisfied? My list includes:

  • Doing meaningful work
  • Giving a great presentation
  • Being on a big stage
  • Engaging with the audience
  • Teaching those who are willing to go deep with their learning
  • Changing lives

3. Clarify the language

Now, review both lists and clarify any fuzzy language. What do the items on your lists mean specifically? What are you doing exactly? For example, for me, doing a “great presentation” means a presentation that:

  • Meets the client’s goals
  • Creates positive impact on the audience
  • Makes the audience laugh
  • Prompts the audience to think more deeply
  • Is on big stage with audience engagement
  • Goes deep with a training class

4. Rebalance your work and personal life

Next, assess the amount of time and energy you expend doing joyful and meaningful activities. Are you getting an adequate dose of your day infused with some combination of these activities? You may not always have ONLY joyful activities, but you do want to have a generous smattering of them so that life feels good, and work feels meaningful. What adjustments do you need to make? For example, after seeing the lack of joyful activities, I created a calendar and where to add in a concert, dinner party, art exhibit or kayaking trip.

Give it a try. The process is simple. Plus, it feels good to write down the joyful, meaningful activities in your life. The list alone can give clarity about activities to put on your NEW to-do list!



Author Byline: Founder and CEO of Blue Fjord Leaders, Shelley Row P.E. CSP, was named by Inc. Magazine as one of the top 100 leadership speakers. Professional engineer and former senior executive, she was recognized as one of the best minds in advanced traffic management systems.

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