Monday, during a bathroom break in the middle of a particularly productive session with my to-do list, I looked at myself in the mirror and proudly thought, “I am a machine!!” It’s obviously a figure of speech, but the human in me said, “That’s a compliment to myself, but it doesn’t feel quite right.” As I have made it part of my mission to embrace my humanity and rise above some of the challenges of being human, it was almost a betrayal to tell myself that, at my working best, I am no longer human. Hmmm.
I couldn’t help considering my long-time love affair with to-do lists. Part of what I love about the to-do list is that using it allows part of my mind to shut off. The decisions are made and I go in to automatic mode. Briefly, when it’s time to check something off, a bit of glee comes to the surface, but other than that, it’s work work work. I become Mrs. Roboto. I have created a way of taking a break from feeling, from being human.
Providing myself with that break is a positive thing, but then there is that moment when I glance at the list before it goes in to the recycling bin (it does not have the same satisfyingly final tone as “garbage”, but this is 2011). At that moment, I feel good about what I have done to be a responsible adult, but I can’t help feeling a bit bad about neglecting an important aspect of myself. On what I consider brilliant days, I add creative tasks to the list and actually do at least one. Much more often, creativity is neglected, either by not making it to the list, or by sitting on the list with nothing next to it as it enters the bin.
Another issue with the to-do list is that I consistently put more on the list than I can practically do in a day, so I make it impossible to actually complete a list. Is this what I do with my students? Do I make completion impossible for them, or do I do what is necessary to make failure impossible? I know that they must experience success to continue their learning journey, so why can’t I allow myself to recycle a list with all of the boxes checked? Does Mrs. Roboto need that kind of job security? If she doesn’t get her work done for the day, she has to come back tomorrow!
The problem is, Mrs. Roboto is not in favor of creativity. All she cares about is accomplishing. And I value creativity.
Perhaps it is time to use my list-making skills to make some rules regarding the to-do list with the big picture of my life in mind.
- Limit the list to LESS than can be done in a day, because issues/interruptions usually pop up during projects, and there needs to be room for that. This is life, not a factory.
- Add a creative activity to the list every day and DO IT. Creative activities should be reasonable as well, not “produce a convincing copy of the Mona Lisa” or something.
- Include relationship-enriching activities on the list. If paperwork is so important that it makes it to the list, don’t people deserve to make it too? I doubt that, on my death bed, I will think lovingly about paperwork.
Take that, Mrs. Roboto. Humanity and creativity, I ! will be interfering with your automaticity from now on. The lists that are recycled will be part of building a more satisfying life than they have been with you in charge.