There are a few things I’ve been putting off lately. Meditating this morning. Cleaning my house this week. Finishing my taxes this month. This embarrassing list stretches on and on.
With my mounting task list, I’ve let my crastination turn pro. If I were running for public office, “I’ll get to it tomorrow” would be an honest slogan for my tacky yard signs.
Tomorrow? Well, today was once tomorrow, so if I want to break the cycle, I must pause and then prioritize my most important affairs. I know this intellectually, but it’s difficult in practice because it often feels like life gets in the way of life. Or, more accurately, everyone else’s life gets in the way of my life. Work, leisure, and family obligations prevent me from doing what I need to do.
But do they really?
The truth is that even my best excuse is still an excuse. Today, I have the same 24 hours as everyone else. The only difference is how I spend it—what I say yes to, and, just as important, what I say no to.
So, instead of a never-ending to-do list, I make three lists in the Notes app on my phone.
Today. My Today list functions like a to-do list but with one major difference: anything on this list must be completed today, so I’m careful about what creeps onto this list because these are the things I’ll say yes to over the next 24 hours; everything else receives a polite no, thank you. Today’s list includes: meditate, write, exercise, read, sauna, file taxes, prepare for a podcast, cook dinner for Bex and Ella, and make three business-related phone calls. If I don’t have enough time, I’ll wake an hour earlier, before the world is buzzing, so I can focus. At the end of the day, I’ll write a Tomorrow list at the bottom of this list, which becomes my new Today list in the morning. If anything from Today makes it to Tomorrow two times, then I either delete it or move it to the next list because it’s not a real priority.
Someday. This short list helps me collect aspirational considerations—items that are important to me but not urgent. These Somedays might eventually become a priority, but not right now. My current list includes: schedule lunch with a friend, do the laundry, grocery shop, plan a vacation, and consider a couple consumer purchases I’m still pondering. Eventually—as soon as later this week—some of these items will make their way onto my Today list, while others will fall by the wayside as I focus on more vital undertakings.
Never. These are the things I mustn’t do if my Today list is incomplete; they are imaginary values that clog the path to my priorities. It turns out that nearly half my compulsions make this list—watch TV, surf YouTube, check email, peruse social media, browse the news. However, the onus of these burdens is fake. I feel compelled by these distractions only because they are easier than hunkering down and drudging through more meaningful endeavors. Of course, everything worthwhile—and all the rewards—reside on the other side of the drudgery.