Writing

The To-Don’t List

I’ve spent my last few weeks writing to-do lists. It’s the end of the school year for the kids. I like to call it “hell month.” It’s like every teacher, every extracurricular activity leader, every club chair… they all get together and conspire to make sure that each kid has something that “must be done” every. single. day. of May.

So I take notes. These aren’t your typical to-do lists. It’s not like I can just set it aside and mark things off as I get the opportunity. This isn’t “clean out the closet” or “make a pile of donations” or “dig ear wax out with a blunt pencil.”

These are time-sensitive, must-do tasks that have hard deadlines. They are important, critical tasks such as send money with the boy-child on Tuesday so he can get a soda at the bowling alley and girl-child’s class needs 35 paper bags on Thursday.

Having school-aged children is akin to working under the micromanagement of a team of spastic, flighty bosses who can’t hardly remember their own names half the time. And everything is of critical importance (even if they neglect to tell me about it until the last dying second). If I fail in these tasks, their world shall surely end.

Raising kids is like facing a perpetually-unloading clown-car… and I’m the circus conductor… and the lion is chasing my ass.

The lion, of course, is synonymous for all those “other things” that beg our attention and assert their own importance. Eventually, I start to lose it. Stress mounts, another shock of hair turns gray, and the blood pressure ticks up another notch. This year has been exceptionally hectic.

Last week, I ditched Facebook. I’ve also been focusing on spending less time behind a screen. Weeks one and two have gone well, despite some struggles. The exercise has brought to my attention the parts of life that eat my time and energy in undeserving amounts. There are elements of my day that I can do without. There are tasks that don’t require my attention. They are attitudes that don’t deserve my recognition.

I’ve decided to start a To-Don’t List.

1. Don’t Use Technology as a Time Filler

Technology, especially my phone, became a time filler for me, to the point of obsessive compulsion.

I’d pull out my phone while standing in line, waiting at a stoplight and cooking dinner. Various websites filled time gaps, giving my brain a snack to munch on, lest it be deprived of information for a single nanosecond. It became a habit — a bad one — where I felt downright uncomfortable if I was idle for even a moment.

We need mental downtime to free ourselves from the deluge of information that bombards us daily. I remember life just ten years ago, before smart phones. I vaguely remember life twenty years ago, before computers did anything very interesting. I ask myself if I’d have made it through college in the 90s, given my technology-squirreling habits of today. I wonder at what I’ve missed in the last ten years because of my growing need to fill every silence.

Pulling away from technology has forced me to fill my time in other ways. Conversation. Playing music. Reading. Journaling. Quietly thinking of anything or nothing. Moments of meditative silence. All of these have replaced screen-staring.

It’s a slow and difficult recovery. I find myself reactive, reaching for my phone or computer. I mindfully tell myself to knock it the fuck off. Put it away. Not necessary. I’m starting to feel the benefits of calm and clarity, just a little more each day.

2. Don’t Multitask

I go for walks at work. It’s really the only exercise that I manage to fit into my schedule. My phone is typically wrapped into my palm; it’s a safety thing. I don’t work in the greatest area of town. But it also became a distraction (see point 1). I found myself replying to texts, emails and Skype while walking. Then the news would grab my attention. Before I disabled my Facebook account, I’d wind up scrolling through my feed.

Insert stern words and finger shaking from my martial arts instructor here on the dangers of walking around distracted…. yes, I know… I was taught better!

My multitasking isn’t limited to technology use, either. My brain has hard-wired itself over years of multitasking practice to fret while eating, analyze problems while holding a conversation, make mental to-do lists while trying to sleep, and start a myriad of tasks before finishing the work at hand.

My mind is my Windows desktop… only, the “close” button on every pane is disabled.

There is a Zen philosophy of single-tasking: Do one thing at a time. When you’re eating, eat. When you’re walking, walk. When you’re conversing, talk and listen only to the person you’re conversing with. In all things, be mindful and act with purpose. There are proven benefits to mindfulness, and it does work. I’ve practiced mindfulness in the past (BC… Before Children). It’s time to get back to that form of living.

3. Don’t Own Other People’s Problems

My husband’s back is hurting? Must be something I did, or alternately didn’t do. My kid forgot his lunchbox? Yep, that was me! We spaced on a party we were supposed to attend? That had to be my fault. Cue the self-deprecating inner dialogue. How stupid can I be? I’m completely worthless. Idiot!

This one is tough for me. I’m fairly trained to blame myself for everything. First and foremost. The resulting mental self-flogging doesn’t accomplish anything.

Seriously, no one is as important as my brain wants to make me out to be. No one has that kind of influence on the world. No one is that necessary. Moreover, if I’m claiming responsibility for the tasks, trials and/or sufferings of others, what is there for them to do in life?

Sometimes I have to tell myself flat out: You don’t own this. It’s not yours. Step away. Let go. If I can reach those thoughts before the self-deprecation comes into play, I can usually walk away unscathed. But the more there is to do in life, the more affected by those thoughts I become. I’m putting this on my To-Don’t list so that I can find meaningful solutions to this life-long affliction.

4. Don’t Read the Comments

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Comments on Internet news sources are a showcase for the worst that humanity has to offer. In order to lead a happier life, I shall henceforth refrain from reading comments on Internet news articles.

The comments make me feel horrible about society and life in general. They drown out the message of the article. They don’t challenge the mind or inspire healthy debate. They are 90% childish, name-calling jackassery on proud display. It’s a source of negativity that is entirely possible to avoid. Keeping up with current events is depressing enough; why do I torture myself by reading what the worst of society has to say about it?

5. Don’t Forgo The Good Stuff

Sometimes life feels like a merry-go-round of up-dressed-work-dinner-homework-housework-bedtime-sleep. Rinse. Repeat. No time for variation. The To-Do list perpetuates. The clown car of kid-raising continues to unload. The lion roars, hungry, behind me.

In order to make life memorable and enjoyable, the good stuff has to be forced on in there. Invite friends to dinner. Go for hikes. Play games. Blow bubbles. Swim. Dance. Skip instead of walking. Make use of sidewalk chalk.

At the grocery store last week, my husband was called “childish” because he was playing with girl-child. Some prudish woman decided to quietly scold him for the simple fact that he was acting goofy with a ten-year-old. The beautiful thing about him is that he just doesn’t care what people think. Especially when those people have the sticks lodged so firmly up their asses that no proctologist in the world can help.

So have fun with life. Skip the mundane and head straight into the enjoyable. The nay-sayers can kiss it.

6. Don’t Give Up on The To-Don’t List

This list will grow. There’s a lot unstated here. I’m sure this is only the beginning. I will add to the list as I realize what to let go of in life. The more we shed of what we are not, the more we become what we are meant to be.

What would you put on your To-Don’t List?

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