Blitzing the list: why Getting Stuff Done does not get the job done

Today is the first full-fledged day of the Mary Oliver Challenge, and it is a challenge. My soft animal is feeling the sharp, pointy teeth and claws of anxiety. The challenge is to grapple with that feeling instead of letting it take over or pushing it into a corner where it will lurk, glaring at me and waiting to pounce again.

My last day of work was Tuesday. Wednesday, we left for vacation. Last night, after we returned, I immediately began to feel the pressure of Getting Stuff Done. I unpacked from our trip and started the laundry. Then I set aside time to write in my journal. There was so much else to Get Done: emails, household chores, putting away the stuff I brought home from work and dumped on my dresser last week. Plus things I wanted to do, including writing a blog post and responding to friends who gave me such kind, supportive feedback on the first post. (If you are one of those friends: thank you! I haven’t forgotten you.)

But I reminded myself: there will always be Stuff To Do. I have to learn to live with that. And I made two resolutions for the next day: I would not stress out over chores, and I would not stress out over whether to go to the $5 yoga class that meets downtown on Mondays.

Now it’s the next day, and I have been wrestling with those resolutions. I am coming to realize how very much difficulty I have allowing messages to sit and wait for my response. They gnaw at me, even on vacation, even when they’re not the least bit urgent. If I can tell myself, “I’ll answer them at X time,” that helps. Simply saying I’ll do it later — without specifying when — does not help. I think my decades as a procrastinator have left me with the terror that if I don’t do it now, I won’t do it at all.

So when I feel that pressure of Getting Stuff Done, my instincts are either to hide, procrastinate — do something entirely nonproductive and not especially rewarding — or to blitz the list. Each tactic holds the anxiety at bay for a little while. But neither solves the problem. There will always be Stuff To Do. Neither ignoring it nor blitzing it will bring me peace of mind. That will come from learning to accept the reality that I will never get it all done. (Sorting out the genuine have-to’s from the “shoulds” on the to-do list is another part of the challenge.)

By breakfast this morning, I had reached the obvious conclusion that blitzing the list would not be a good way to embrace the Mary Oliver Challenge. Doing stuff because I want to do it is great. Doing it for the sake of Getting Stuff Done is the opposite of letting the soft animal of my body love what it loves. Making that decision helped with the stress over chores.

The yoga class was a tougher call. Yoga is great for me, both physically and emotionally. Unlike blitzing the list, and unlike procrastination, yoga not only alleviates anxiety but helps me reach down toward its roots and gently loosen their grip.

I hope that this blog, a form of writing therapy, will play a similar role. And as I wrestled this morning with whether to go to the noon yoga class, I was also burning with the urge to write down these thoughts. I decided to follow that urge, with the promise that I will do yoga by myself this afternoon. (I have a specific yoga lesson in mind, which I might want to write about it at a later date. If I feel like it.)

I’m going to end this post by noting some Things Undone — not by way of self-flagellation, but as a reminder that there will always be Stuff To Do. I want to learn how to make these posts look better, find cool images (or take my own photos), learn the blogging platform better.

Maybe I will, and maybe I won’t. Meanwhile, I’m not going to let it stop me from posting.

What is the Mary Oliver Challenge? Glad you asked! You can read about it here.

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