Bagging your to-do list for a to-be list

The last time I upgraded my iPhone, due to some mystical technical snafu, my backed-up data got lost in the ether. Contacts, my jam-packed calendar, and over 1000 notes—among which my sprawling to-do list—poof!, vanished in an instant. After a moment of panic, strangely, a sense of calm and freedom began to wash over me. When the data was finally retrieved by a Genius Bar-man, I was happy, but it did lead me to ponder who was running the show—me or my lists?

I’ve written before about the importance of making sure your to-do list is serving your bigger life goals. I am also a big believer of scheduling the items on the list to make sure they get done. Several bloggers have raised the benefit of having a not-to-do list as a way to increase productivity. These hacks go part of the way to make sure you’re employing your time in an effective manner. However, we are all faced with myriad micro-decisions each day, each taking up energy and cumulatively contributing to decision fatigue.

Dilbert creator Scott Adams believes that a systems approach rather than a goal-oriented approach leads to more sustained success because it doesn’t rely on willpower, which is finite and quickly depleted. Taking weight-loss as an example, Adams argues that it’s easier to succeed by educating yourself about healthy eating (say, the glycemic index of various foods) than by aiming for a goal of losing 10 pounds.

Once you’ve educated yourself within your areas of priority, I suggest focusing on how you’d like to feel in your life. Choose a few adjectives that resonate deeply within your body. Do you want to feel creative? on top of things? sexy? You don’t have to limit yourself to just one! If ‘healthy’ is one of your aims, rather than wrestling with temptation when faced with a dessert menu, you simply ask yourself ‘what would a healthy person do?’

In his book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the WorldWharton professor Adam Grant notes that children react better to praise of character than praise of action: ‘you’re a helpful person’ has more of an impact than ‘that was a helpful thing to do’. And what is self-improvement, ultimately, if not reparenting ourselves? By consistently choosing like a healthy person, you eventually become one. As Camus said,

Life is a sum of all your choices. So what are you doing today?


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