August 20, 2009

“I Don’t Know What to Do”

“I don’t know what to do.”

This is the biggest thing keeping people from improving their lives. They don’t know what to do because they don’t know what they really want to do. Often people just muddle along until things get so bad that they know they have to change something — and more importantly, then they have a pretty good idea of what kind of change they want to make.

But you don’t have to sit around waiting for something to happen to give you that kind of clarity. The next time you feel bored with life, instead of checking to see what’s on television, check to see what’s on . . .

. . . your to-do list. Whether you have a written list or just some vague ideas of what you might do someday, the to-do list is all you need to find out why life has ground to a halt.

Before anyone complains, I must hasten to add that I’m not going to ask you to do anything that’s on your to-do list. If life seems dull or oppressive, it is safe to conclude that nothing on your to-do list inspires you. Maybe you have days when you clean out the garage, because that’t the only thing on the to-do list that you feel like you can really do. And after that’s done, then what?

I hope it’s obvious that I don’t think the answer is flipping aimlessly through the television channels, looking for something to eat, or texting your friends about how nothing happens in your life. You need to find out why your life is the way it is — why it seems empty. And you can find that answer in the to-do list.

That’s because, after you’ve done all the things you can do easily and confidently today, your to-do list turns into a “not happening” list — a list of reasons why your life is not moving forward. For everything on your list, there is a reason why you don’t feel like doing it, wouldn’t do it well, or can’t do it yet. Much of what’s on the list may be a hassle, unfair, or overwhelming. For everything that’s on the list, ask yourself, “Do I really have to do this? Do I really want to do it? And if so, why couldn’t I do it right now?” And for each question, look for the simple, obvious answers.

Then, ask yourself, “ What do I really wish I could do? And why can’t I do that right now?”

Look at this long enough, and you’ll start to find patterns. Eventually you’ll notice some kind of false assumption that has you doing, or trying to do, the wrong things. Everyone will find different answers, but these are some examples of what you might find:

  • You’re doing the things you’re supposed to do, instead of doing things that actually help you.
  • You give yourself too many things to do, then find yourself overwhelmed by your basic responsibilities, which are getting neglected.
  • You spend all your time on the things that seem most urgent, but never get around to the things you most want to do.

There are certain responsibilities that you are committed to meeting, but beyond that, it is more important to have a to-do list that inspires you to take action than it is to have one that focuses on the “right” actions in some theoretical sense. You get more done if you set out to do something you care about, or something that drives you, than if you assign yourself tasks that you will find a way to put off until tomorrow.

If your to-do list is too vague to give you the answers, you can find the same answers by going through your possessions. For every possession you have that you aren’t using, ask yourself why you have it, what you expect to do with it, and why you couldn’t do that right now.

Keep at this, and you’ll find out soon enough what you really want to do with your life and how you can go about doing it. You don’t have to sit around and wait for things to happen, and you certainly don’t have until things get really awful, as people often do, to realize what your life is about. You can actively look for that answer. And often, the quickest way to find it is by looking through your to-do list.

1 comment:

Maria Simos said...

Great post! Really sums up the meat of the argument behind your book which I loved reading. Thank you for sharing these ideas with us, keep them coming. We need to continually re-evaluate to do and find what we really want.