Recipe For Well-Being: Drop the to-do list guilt

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Humans of Big Corp - Real people rocking authentic, purpose-based career.

"If you choose to do something, then do it right. And if you decide to do nothing, then enjoy it."

- Tosca Menten

Humans of Big Corp - Real people rocking authentic, purpose-based career.

👥 Serves: 1 person 

🤹 Difficulty: Medium

⏳ Total time: 1 hour a week

🥣 Ingredients: A quiet place without distractions, 1 pen, 1 sheet of paper

💪 Nutritional values: Self-awareness, Kindness to self, Courage, Critical thinking, Freedom

Description 📝

An activity to drop unattainable standards and reclaiming serenity in your life.


Society and even more so work have elevated the need to be (overwhelmingly) busy to the level of status symbol, in a cultural context where ‘having no life’ or ‘needing a vacation’ is somehow a synonym for success. For the purpose of a recent study, a fictional Facebook profile was created, and volunteers were asked to look at her posts. When she posted about working nonstop, people thought she had higher status and more money than if she posted about her leisure time. Following this logic, if people are impressed by busy people, then surely the way to impress people is by being busy? In particular at work, where the workload is always higher than there is time to take care of it and where the career opportunities are correlated to how much you impress your boss, there is a real risk that you (consciously or not) commit to constant work overload – with all its possible negative effects in terms of failure-driven anxiety, lack of social life and increased risk of burn-out – even though your aspiration may be more towards a balanced work-life integration. 


The following activity invites you to take off the measure of these unattainable standards, to  regain control on what you want to prioritise and to let go of negative feelings which result from an externally imposed mental construct. In a word, it will free you up of what’s not yours, so that you can decide what and how much you want to be busy with.

Steps 👣

Step 1 – Releasing unattainable standards


It is not possible to work full-time, spend quality time with your family, keep a toned body, and have all your dirty laundry baskets empty – it’s not! The first step is to reframe the post-war illusive ideal of a perfectly clean and tidy household with freshly baked stuff coming out of your oven – in reality, it is only possible if someone is working full time at home. Take pen and paper and reflect on what you believe to be acceptable, realistic standards for your life – how clean do you want your place to be, how often do you order take-away food instead of cooking yourself, how late do you stay in the office, etc.?


Step 2 – Choosing what to do with your time


Time is not something that you have – it is something you choose to spend. The second step is about consciously deciding how you want to spend your precious time (bear in mind that multitasking is a myth which results in half-baked stuff). By choosing how to spend your time, by giving priority to what matters to you, you will steer what your life is made of, which is by far the most empowering of your decisions. It will also tell you what will not happen: you cannot stay late at a meeting and be on time to pick up your kids; you cannot tick off your entire to-do list at work and find the time to mentor a new colleague without putting in extra hours. It is essential that you are honest with yourself about what can be done and how well it can be done with the time you invest in it, rather than keep hoping for an illusory ‘doing it all’ which you’ll end up disappointed about. Jot your trade-offs  down on your sheet of paper – what is competing for that same slot of your time?


Step 3 – Protecting glass balls and catching the rubber balls at the rebound


In your busy life, you might be juggling around 50 balls a day (or more like 100?!). The decision is not how to prioritise work versus family versus health, but rather to prioritise within the activities that consume your time. The dilemma really is between that one hour at the gym for yourself or that one hour cleaning the house; that one hour hitting an important deadline or that one hour cooking a home-made dinner. The key to juggling priorities is to be clear about which of these activities absolutely need to be protected – let’s call them ‘glass balls’ that shatter if they hit the ground – and those that are unpleasant to let fall but will not have long-lasting consequences – let’s call them ‘rubber balls’ that can be caught at the rebound. Consider the ‘balls’ in competition with each other (your trade-offs) and reflect on which ones are your ‘glass’ and ‘rubber’ balls. It is important to consider all the people who count on you (including yourself!), as well as the balance between short- and longer-term consequences – if too many rubber balls fall in the same area, they gradually turn into glass balls.


Step 4 – Dropping the guilt


At this point, look at your notes and identify tasks that you might be able to delegate to someone who is better than you at doing it, and where to spare your valuable time. At the same time, acknowledge that you are an ordinary hero, she-ro, (or whatever LGBTQ+ equivalent is appropriate here) so drop the guilt and be proud of what you have chosen and what you have achieved by being fully present while doing it. Make sure you are efficient when you choose to be, and that you savour the moment when it’s meant to be quality time. Take notice when your mind is somewhere else (busy with work on your time off or worried about home when at work) and try to stay busy with only the activity assigned to this time. The ultimate guilt-release challenge is taking time for yourself to do nothing else than taking time for yourself – without feeling bad about it. Can you do it?


Step 5 – Weekly review


Choose a specific time in your week that you can set aside to reflect on the previous week. Go back to your notes to check your progress. The following questions might help you in your reflection:

  • Did you feel in control of your decisions on how to spend your time? Did you manage to give time to the things that matter to you? If not, why not? If so, how challenging was it to make these decisions?
  • How comfortable were you consciously letting rubber balls drop? Did you manage to avoid multitasking? How did you feel in the moment when you knew something wasn’t getting done? How hard was it to drop the guilt?
  • Did you notice any progress compared to last week? What can you learn and keep for next week? What could you try to change next week?

[This text was originally published on Here]

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