Your Worth Is Much More Than A To-Do List

23rd August, 2021 in Mental Health

Your Worth Is Much More Than A To-Do List

“Why do you want to go on holiday? Because you need to rest and recharge so that you will be able to work more productively when you return. It all sounds so reasonable, except that if everything is done as a means to something else, nothing is worthwhile in itself.” - Tim Harford, Financial Times, ‘Going on holiday? Leave the ‘to do’ list at home’.

I recently just got back from my first holiday from work at Healthy Hospo.

I took much joy in writing my out of office reply:

‘I’m currently out of office until the 12th.
For any urgent inquiries please forward messages to my colleagues. I hope your week is filled with field frolics and bare-foot dancing!

At last, a well-deserved holiday to relax, dance at a music festival, and reward myself for all my hard work.

After feeling absolutely SPENT after a week of socialising, late nights, festival responsibilities, and drinking a fair amount of cider, I had one of those days where you just lie in bed and eat whatever you want.

How wonderful this was.

A rainy day where I can watch all the episodes of Fleabag for the 1000th time and eat hummus crisps, absolutely guilt free.

Well, the day was almost guilt free which is probably why it was one of my favourite days of the whole holiday. I knew that there was no pressure to do anything else or go anywhere. Plus, it was raining so I didn’t get that ‘I should be outside in the sun but I’m hungover’ guilt - you know the one.

Next day the anxiety started to creep-in.

I need to make sure I feel like I’ve had a holiday so I can get back to work feeling refreshed. I need to make sure I make time to read that book which I never have time for.

Just like I usually try to do when I experience anxiety-fuelled mind-chatter, I write it down.

- Have fun
- Read book
- Be in the sun
- Relax

Right, “this is what I need to have done this week in order to have made the most of my holiday”, I thought.

- Have fun: TICK
- Read book: to do
- Be in the sun: it’s not sunny, check weather forecast
- Relax: ???

I spent the rest of my break with the underlying worry that I was not doing enough to have a ‘proper holiday’, feeling guilty that I still hadn’t read my book, and don’t even get me started on where the sun was!

I practiced grounding myself in the present moment and tried letting go of this feeling. This helped but fluctuated in its effectiveness.

Fast forward to today when I came across an article entitled, ‘Going on holiday? Leave the ‘to do’ list at home’ by Tim Harford for the Financial Times. I thought damn; has my phone been listening to my thoughts again?!

Joking of course (hopefully!)

For obvious reasons, this article and the conversations surrounding it felt very relatable to me.

Did I create a to-do list on ‘how to holiday’?

Was writing this list in itself negating the whole point of a holiday?

Am I a millennial addicted to achieving due to growing up in an outdated education system that forced me to base my self-worth on my productivity due to the endless cogs of a toxic capitalist society?

Well, perhaps! Maybe. That’s probably some of it.

Anyone who has ever had the good fortune of being a human has likely written a to-do list at some point in their lives. Some people hate them, some love them, some sit somewhere in between and must navigate the concept with much care (me).

I’m sure many can relate to how to-do lists can have the capacity to dictate one's life.

You can quite easily spend your entire teen/adult existence writing lists, ticking things off, never reaching the end, going to tick off something you hadn’t written down, writing it down, ticking it off, never reaching the end... etc.

I’ve also written many lists like this:

- Wake up
- Get out of bed
- Brush teeth
- Go to the toilet

Which were in actual fact pretty helpful when I was struggling with depression. If this helps you too then by all means, carry on!

Eventually though I got myself to the point where I would tick something off a list and feel absolutely nothing. Zero. Zilch.

It was almost as if my serotonin was re-enacting Ian Beale from Eastenders when Jane left him, “I’ve got nothing left! I’ve got nothing left, Phil!”

The subject of to-do lists came up A LOT in my many years of counselling (would highly recommend btw) where I had to completely dismantle the whole concept and re-build another system of structuring my life. Sounds dramatic I know but it was exactly what I needed to do.

Thanks for the life-story and the Eastenders reference but what is the point in all this I hear you ask?

I guess I simply want to say, don’t let your life be ruled by to-do lists.

No matter what age we are we have all learnt that to some degree, we are defined by what we create; “what are you going to leave behind when you die? What difference are you going to make in this world?”.

Humanity has got itself to a point where we are so hyper-focused on being productive that, even when we’re supposed to be taking time-out, we cannot help but to micro-manage that too, exampled by my ‘how to holiday’ list.

Having a purpose, following steps towards a career path you love, and working to create positive difference are absolutely important aspects of our lives. But they are not the be all and end all.

Life is also about…

…wait for it…


What a relief!

Don’t get me wrong to-do lists can be great! They are so fun to write, satisfying to tick off, and they can really help to focus the mind and motivate you to get something done. But be mindful of your relationship with them. You are more in control of your life than your to-do list is in control of you. You are the boss!

I’ve actually re-implemented to-do lists back into my life now in a way that is more mindful and healthier.

So, here’s 3 do’s and don’ts to help when nurturing a healthier relationship with them:

1. Quit holiday to-do lists

Some people enjoy having a sight-seeing list on some holidays which I can completely understand. Perhaps the next holiday you go on have a more relaxed agenda where you don’t need a list. Intuitive exploring can be really rewarding and make you feel so alive! Plus, don’t the best moments always stem from something that’s not planned?

2. Write a list of ‘Intentions’, not ‘To-Do’s’

A friend made me aware of this recently and I have been using it ever since. Sometimes it’s helpful to have a list of things to do, particularly with work, but having a list of ‘intentions’ rather than ‘to do’s’ is a much gentler way of keeping track of your day. An intention implies it is something you would like to get done, or something you intend to start, whereas a to-do feels more like something that you have to do and if you don’t, then you’ve failed.

3. Be realistic, don’t make them too long, only write one if absolutely necessary

Sometimes when we write a to-do list it can turn something which was originally an enjoyable task into a chore. Try only writing to-do lists when absolutely necessary and avoid the whole ‘meet friends for drinks’ or ‘call my nan’ appearances. In my experience, as soon as I’ve written anything like that it becomes the last thing I want to do.

Try to be as realistic as possible and don’t make it too long. Sometimes I write a list of intentions (as a guide) and then write an ‘overflow list’ for another time as it’s easy to think of new things as you’re writing. I try to keep this hidden though, so it doesn’t catch my eye uninvited!

Of course everyone is different and I, by no means, want to make you feel bad for writing to-do lists if it helps you. If something helps you then I urge you to please carry on.

I hope that through sharing my dilemma some people may relate and not feel so alone amidst the chaos.

Repeat after me:

My worth is so much more than a to-do list.

I am not defined by how much I produce.

I deserve rest (proper rest) and I deserve time to simply exist.

With love,