Lists, goals, and expectations

I’m a pretty organised person these days. I have not just one to-do list but several. I use various systems to help me stay on top of things. I regularly spend a bit of time overviewing and prioritising my current tasks.

The problem is, while recording things on a list initially lowers my stress levels as I can feel assured they won’t be forgotten, the list itself can then be a stressful thing. It is designed to be a simple memory aid but once it is written, it can become tyrannical, demanding; the items it contains are reasons never to feel comfortable. There is a compulsion to clear the list as soon as possible.

Situations lose all nuance when represented by a list. They become an exercise in beating the clock, a dimensionless series of pass/fail “tests”. The reward of ticking things off becomes far too large a part of the motivation.

I don’t know if this is just me. I do know that I am particularly averse to setbacks and failures; perhaps that plays into it. I can’t seem to keep my expectations under control, either.

I can recognise that I am more organised than the average person. But I never think I am productive enough. If I’m focussed on Sunday Assembly then I’m neglecting my career; if I’m focussed on my career then I’m failing to make time for creativity; if I’m writing blogs or playing guitar then I’m letting the home improvements slide; and so on. I am doing bits of everything I want to do, but it never seems enough.

When judging my own progress, I seem to view each “project” in my life (and perhaps that’s a problematic word!) as if it were the only thing I was doing. I compare myself to others who’ve gone much further than me, without remembering that the activities and interests that I’ve pursued are actually quite a diverse collection.

And then I recognise that my expectations are ridiculous, but it doesn’t make me feel much better, because then I just wish there were more hours in a day so I could do everything I want to do! Somehow I am not prepared to surrender to realism.

And I think there’s more to it than just being a passionate person. There is an ever-present undercurrent of striving to be worthy; to avoid the shame that I associate with things I haven’t got around to doing. For some reason I feel the need to whip myself into shape with lists and goals and projects.

Being deliberate in this way is not entirely a bad thing – I certainly have accomplished more because of it, and that is satisfying. But there is too much stress attached and it’s not making me feel happy a lot of the time. The best times happen when I lose myself in what I’m doing, and am no longer aware of the deliberation.

The most surprising instance of this has been DIY – something I expected to be a chore. Something about the physicality of it, working with my hands, working muscles I didn’t know existed, seems to snap me out of the overly cerebral mode I normally operate in, and it feels like a rest for my head. When it’s going well, at least! 😉 Sunday Assembly organising, on the other hand, never feels like that. It is a big trigger for my compulsive organising trait and this has resulted in such heavy involvement that I’ve drifted into the role of Chair. I am giving it up in September.

I would really like to feel more comfortable with things not yet done. That’s not something I can put on a to-do list, but it is something I’d like to work on.

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One Response to Lists, goals, and expectations

  1. Pingback: Learning to relax | Meaning and Truth

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