Mindfulness and “To Do” Lists
by Monica A. Frank, Ph.D.
Many people erroneously believe that mindfulness and productivity are not compatible. This common misunderstanding is due to the idea that mindfulness meditation is the goal rather than the means. However, the purpose of mindfulness practice is to help foster a mindful attitude to bring to all activities of life.
I tend to be a fairly busy person—I remember only one day in my life where I crossed everything off my to do list. However, I use my to do list as a tool. It doesn't control me or make me feel bad if I don't cross anything off because my to do list is not a list of demands. It is a list that allows me to focus on the immediate thing I'm working on. By writing it down I don't have to worry about it or even think about it until I am ready to focus on it.
In this way, my to do list is actually part of my mindful attitude. It keeps me present with what I am doing because I know I have a plan that is safely recorded and I don't have to juggle a bunch of things in my mind. And even when I'm writing my to do list I can mindfully focus on the list. Instead of worrying about how everything will get done I can tell myself, “It is on my list. I have a plan. And I will just focus on one thing at a time.”
During times of great stress my to do list becomes even more important. When stressed, our minds are divided among many things which makes it difficult to maintain a mindful attitude. For me, the to do list helps keep me focused on the immediate task knowing I will get to the other items as I am able.
I am not saying that everyone needs a to do list. But if you use one, don't let it be demanding and controlling. If it is demanding and you are feeling overwhelmed by the to do list, it is not a mindful tool. Instead, use it as a way of planning to help you work in a mindful way. Its only purpose is to help you organize and remember what you want to do so you can focus on your present task.
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