This past year has been difficult for me (Marlene), not just during the long month of November.
I have been playing catch up all year, trying to whittle down my never-ending to-do list. Susan Bono’s guest blog post reminds me to stop, notice, and savor the moment.
Even those of us who start the day with a list know what it’s like when unplanned-for events start coming our way. In spite of our intentions, we start tackling the unscheduled instead of working on what we had planned. Emergencies come up, of course; we can’t control everything. No one can plan for bad news or times we are suddenly needed. But the list of unanticipated tasks is endless, and after a while, we just start doing what comes to us, instead of what we had intended.
You should have days when you follow your bliss. In fact, have them as often as you like, but the trick is in telling yourself right from the start, “Today I’m going to do whatever I feel like.” But a plan that’s been ignored is a sign of defeat, and most of us have long range goals—I mean, who doesn’t? So whenever you miss an opportunity to complete an intended task, you are altering the look of your Big Picture.
Whether you regularly schedule too much for yourself or sell yourself short, you’ll benefit from the TL list. TL stands for “Tough Luck,” because that’s what you say to anything that’s not on it. If you can complete your assigned tasks, then let the spirit of que sera, sera take over.
So tomorrow, do whatever is in your power to follow your list. The more in control you become in this area of your life, the fewer details your list will need to contain, but for tomorrow, make a schedule of what you think will cover every hour of your day. Include meals, personal care, regular errands, like carpooling, time sinks like phone calls, TV, or email. Now fit your to-do list into that existing framework. How much time do you really have?
Once you’ve made your list, do your best to stick to it. Each time you say, “Tough luck” to extraneous chores, you are giving yourself a big helping of Tough Love. You are proving to yourself and the world that the work you set out to do is important, and so are you.
See if you can love yourself enough to use the TL list until you discover what your true desires and capabilities are. As you plan your list for each tomorrow, note any substitutions you made earlier that day. Did you trade a trip to the grocery store for a surprise phone call from an old friend? Did you not get the ironing done because you couldn’t put down that exciting book you were reading at lunchtime? Were your “failures” or trade-offs satisfying, or did they leave you wishing you could have a do-over?
It’s important not to beat yourself up, because maybe what you really need is to make room for more fun. You can start scheduling that in, too, as you transfer whatever’s undone from the day’s list onto tomorrow’s. And if you’ve really missed the boat on some assignment you’ve given yourself, give it a decent burial. If what you failed to accomplish alters the Big Picture, accept this change with grace and trust that you were meant to change course anyway. As you learn to work with the TL list, you will internalize its rhythms and you won’t need to write everything down. But when you feel yourself getting out of control, you can always use this method to get yourself on track again.
We can’t control what life does to mess up our plans. But we can eliminate our own tendencies to sabotage ourselves. You’ll know when the TL list is working when you stop being so mad at yourself and start building a list of your accomplishments. That’s when Tough Luck goes beyond Tough Love and becomes True Love.
Susan Bono, author of What Have We Here: Essays about Keeping House and Finding Home, was once a high school English teacher, is now a freelance editor, and has been facilitating workshops, critique groups and free-writing classes for more than 25 years. She was the editor and publisher of Tiny Lights: A Journal of Personal Narrative from 1995—2014.