My life is a series of lists: cleaning lists, grocery lists, to-do lists, wish lists…
I’m sure yours is, too.
We keep our lists on frayed scraps of paper, or canary yellow post-it notes that bristle on our bulletin boards like feathers (and flutter underneath the printer and forever out of sight without our permission). Or we have a sturdy, leather-bound notebook in which we record everything. Or perhaps we have an app, into which we input lists that disappear out of sight with the click of a button.
Lists keep the rhythm of the day moving forwards at an even pace. There may be lots to do (sometimes an overwhelming amount), but we know that everything is scheduled, planned, and accomplishable.
Sometimes that rhythm is like the jaunty beat of a marching band, accompanying us through the day as we scurry from one task to another — or like the drum in the prow of a dragon long boat — we are encouraged onwards.
You can do this. We can do this. Pa-rum-pa-pum. Pa-rum-pa-pum.
But, sometimes the rhythm is off. Like the moment when you hear two songs at the same time, both with different melodies and tempos, and they strain against each other in our ears. We take a breath and screw our eyes shut. Our hearts beat unevenly in our chest, struggling to figure out which rhythm to align with.
Those are the days when our circadian rhythms need re-tuning, and our lists still believe we are steaming ahead like a brass band. Maybe we feel like listening to the sonorous melodies of Debussy instead of rousing marches by Sousa.
Lists aren’t melody, they’re percussion. They're our daily metronomes. They keep us moving in the right direction.
However, some days require long melodies that float and soar and allow time between measures to breathe. Those days require colour and texture: a moment to admire a petunia that is unfurling into bloom, its petals a spiral of perfection, like the whorl of a seashell. Or we need to stop to listen to the breeze in the trees and the delicate susurration of the misty rain against the windowpane.
On these days I have a tendency to throw my lists into the wind.
I spend more time being instead of doing. I take a morning to sit with my journal and dream about life. I breathe deeply and feel the wide margins again, and not like I’m constantly being pressed on to the next thing by the relentlessness of my to-do lists.
I brew a cup of tea, select a beautiful pen and a pristine piece of paper, and make joyful lists. Lists of things to write, things to draw, things to read and think about. Rather than cleaning lists and shopping lists. None of these things have a deadline. Most of them don’t even require any action, but just admiration. For example, I have an ongoing lists of things I love, which I return to regularly for a dose of happiness. Written on it are things like: pearls, rainbows, roses in crystal vases, and new notebooks that have never been opened.
It’s ok to need rest and throw away the to-do lists in favour of the to-love lists.
When I’m overwhelmed, I often devise new, more efficient, and thus more complicated, ways of making lists. I write lists of lists to keep the panic at bay. I schedule reminders in my phone. I cross tasks off, only to rewrite them half-way down the page. I spin in circles, leaving a trail of crumpled paper in my wake.
I start to lose my sense of proportion and individuality as I move mechanically from one job to another. I clean the bathroom. Check. I unload the dishwasher. Check. I tidy the toys. Check. Check. After a day of great accomplishment, I climb into my bed feeling like I've become a robot.
None of us are robots, we all do things our own way. If you gave five different people the same list, it would be completed in five different ways. Boil eggs. Buy milk. Fold the socks. There are as many unique ways of doing those things as there people on this planet. But we forget our unique abilities and style when we focus on myopically crossing tasks off our lists.
A list may provide the framework for the day, but our souls provide the beauty and individuality.
Lists are rhythm, but not melody.
They are plot, but not story.
So, when you write your lists today, remember that you provide all the colour, melody, and story for your day.
Lists are amazing tools.
But you… you are amazing.