Saturday, May 7, 2011

The to-do list and hopelessness

In theory, a to-do list pulls together all of your best current opportunities to improve your life and make an impact on the world. This supercharged piece of paper is a physical representation of your personal power and immediate potential!

Does looking at your to-do list make you feel powerful, engaged with life, and ready to jump into action?

No? Not exactly?

In practice, confronting someone with their own to-do list is more likely to drain the life right out of them. You see their face going pale, their gut clenching, their muscles getting weaker. Their mood somewhere on the spectrum from stoic resignation to utter hopelessness.

The to-do list unfortunately has become a locus of discouragement that seems to make life even harder.

For most people, trying to move forward in the face of this kind of discouragement is like trying to walk with an extra fifty pounds on their shoulders. For creative people, it's like trying to walk while chained to the wall. You'll get nowhere.

You can't use your creative mind -- which is your most valuable asset -- while you're in a state of discouragement.

Time management tools don't work very well for most creative people. As far as I can tell, all the standard tools and systems you can buy were invented by non-creative people for use by other non-creative people. If you've sincerely tried to use a time management system and it didn't work for you, don't let that experience make you feel guilty and inept. If you needed a hammer and the closest thing on hand was a screwdriver, that doesn't mean you're bad with nails.

If your to-do list isn't a happy place, then don't try to use it to manage your whole life. Use it in the narrowest way possible: to keep track of your non-routine obligations that have real-world deadlines and real consequences. Hopefully, that's a short list. (If it's not, let's face it, your life is out of balance right now, and your creative life might need to be put on hold while you clean up more urgent messes.)

And here's one more suggestion for you to think about: You're a creative person, so why not create your own time management system? Devise something that actually works for you, your own idiosyncratic system that organizes the information you need and actively helps you feel inspired.

If you've found or invented an effective tool to organize your creative work, please post a comment here and tell us briefly about it, how it works, and how it helps you.

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