I have a confession.

I don’t know how to function without a To Do List. Actually, I have multiple To Do Lists. Electronic ones, ones written on post-its, ones written in moleskin notebooks, ones written on a piece of 8.5×11 paper folded in half the long way. There is a complicated system at work between all the different lists and they keep me on task, moving all of my creative endeavors and businesses forward.

I also work pretty much non-stop.

If it has been a good week, I will allow myself to take half a day off, goof off a little and do what I want.

Most of the time, I end up working on those half days anyways because there are very few things I do that do not feed into the photography, the writing, the gallery, or the traveling. So then I really just work 7 days a week, non-stop.

At 8:30 this morning, I was irrationally angry. I said R, “How is it that I am mad and upset already when we are only 90 minutes into the day and nothing has happened? Sure gmail is giving me trouble as it is failing to autofill my contacts but that cannot be why I am upset.” R grabs her coat and takes me out for a walk.

On the walk, R asks me why I am upset. I knew the answer right away. You always know the answer, but admitting to and accepting the answer is another matter. I tell R that I don’t feel like I’ve had a day off since Christmas and every afternoon, evening I take off is not because I’ve chosen to take it off but I’ve stopped working because I am fed up. R in all of her wisdom replies, “well…stop. Choose to take a day off. Its not that you’ve not had time off but it’s that you’ve not permitted yourself time off. See the difference?!”

Oh, yes. Oh, how I see the difference.

Right there and then, I make the decision that I am declaring today to be a “what I WANT to do day.” Sure, there are things that I really should and need to get done, but I am simply spinning my wheels. So, no more. Today will be an “I want” day and nothing else. No more looking at my endless “To Do” lists and feeling like I should do x, y and z. Oh, what a glorious day it will be. What do I want to do? Make breakfast. That sounds great. Go to yoga. Fantastic…then what? I want to finish writing the article I am in the middle of. Wait, you mean I want to work on the very thing that I had started to do this morning when I got feed up and angry at 8:30am. Oh but there is a subtle but important difference at play here.

The minute I stopped thinking about all the things on the list as “I should do them” but asked if “I wanted to do them,” I immediately relaxed and felt at ease. This morning I approached the article as “I should finish it,” I got nowhere. A walk and a change of verb later, everything is different. The word “should” implies the lack of choice and of dire consequences if you don’t comply. It can easily make you resentful. The word “want” implies choice. An entirely different mindset to approach the never-ending list.

I’ve had a remarkably productive day. I looked through each item on my To Do lists and I asked, do I want to do this? I’ve actually answered yes to each and every one of them. I want to clean up my inbox so that I no longer feel like I am being challenged by it. I want to finish the writing. I want to re-write the press release. I want to make that phone call.

You do what you want to do. That is how the psyche is wired. Then why not work within our natural inclinations and speak in the language that makes us the happiest? What if a simple change in language is all it takes to make it through the TO DO list?

As an experiment, for the next week, I will only do what I want to do. I will phrase every task as a “want” rather than a “should” and see how far I get. Join me in this experiment in precision of language and let me know how you do.

Related Posts:
Words Are Like Loaded Guns
The Present Moment & Only This Moment
A Confession and a Radical Thought 

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