How I Let Go of My 'To Do' List and Learned to Embrace the Joy of the Moment

Your happiness is more important than a completed checklist.
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Your happiness is more important than a completed checklist.

I’m a list person—you know, the type who writes completed items on my to-do list just so I can cross them off.

So when I went from a full-time office job to a stay-at-home mom of twin girls, I was at a loss for how to judge my productivity. How could I prove my days were still valuable when my list would be made up of diaper changes and patty-cake?

Friends who came over would hold my babies and tell me how they wished they could do what I did. “It must be so relaxing to just play with babies all day,” they’d sigh enviously. I’d bristle, thinking if they knew the last time I’d had a chance to shower before 10 p.m., maybe they’d think otherwise.

I was missing my productivity fix. It wasn’t enough feeling that I worked hard; I wanted evidence that I worked hard, too. I wanted the satisfaction of a checked-off list to show my time was worth something.

Then something a friend said one day completely changed my perspective.

“I love coming here. It’s such a haven—a bright spot in my week,” she said.

That one short statement put a shockwave into my way of thinking. Hospitality isn’t something I can cross off a to-do list. I can put the components of it on my list: do the dishes, mop the floor, keep baby toys out of the entryway. But the whole is so much more than the parts.

I soon realized I could either focus on doing things like cleaning my house for the end goal of “productivity,” or I could focus on creating a place where community can thrive—intangible, sure, but infinitely more valuable.

This is true whether we’re working at home or in a high-pressure office. We cling to our to-do lists because our culture tells us busyness is the measure of how valuable our time is. But busyness isn’t synonymous with time well-spent. I learned the hard way when my kids, figuratively, wrenched my beloved list out of my hands. It turns out, I was better going easy on the checklist, and instead putting more energy into living a full life.

The problem with the checklist mentality is that productivity isn’t a fulfilling experience unless it’s for a purpose. A packed calendar can leave us exhausted: We accomplish our tasks one day and the next morning we start all over again.

That doesn’t mean we should set aside the list altogether. But if we direct our efforts toward pursuing joy and community as we go about our tasks, by the end of the day we’re filled up instead of empty. Not convinced? Then let me ask you, have you ever spent the day in PJs on the couch with a friend who needed cheering up? Sat in a coffee shop people-watching and left feeling rejuvenated? Or let the laundry pile up to play at the park all afternoon? They may not look like much on a list, but these are the things that last.

Never is the tension between joy and busyness more apparent than in the holiday season. With Thanksgiving behind us and Christmas fast-approaching, our calendars are filling up, and it will be easy to forget the joy of the season in the whirl of obligations.

But, with a shift in attitude, the holidays can also be the perfect time to be intentional with our time in a way that brings joy to ourselves and others. So let’s resolve to stop being list people. Let’s start being people who pursue life to the fullest.