A Day Without a To-Do List

dreamstime_m_31666844How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.
—Annie Dillard

Recently, I met Katie for a drink on a Friday evening after an insane week of work.  The week had consisted of a couple of hearings, several depositions, too many conference calls to count and flying to Atlanta and back on the same day for a series of meetings.  A week of way too much fast food and not nearly enough exercise.  And after meeting Katie for happy hour, I came home.  Promptly fell into bed.  And was asleep by 8:30.

Unfortunately, in our line of work, it’s tough to avoid weeks like that.

But waking up on Saturday morning, I decided it was time to move to the edge of my comfort zone.  I decided I’d have a day without a to-do list.  A day I could relax into.  A day that could be whatever I wanted it to be.

As I pondered this day without a to-do list, it occurred to me there wasn’t anything that had to be done.  I didn’t “have” to clean the house or cut the grass.  I didn’t even “have” to work out or go to the grocery store.  I might choose to do those things, but I was also free not to choose.

As wonderful as days like this sound, they can be extremely rare in the world of a goal-directed, result-oriented group like lawyers.  More often than not, on the other side of a long work week,  I come to the weekend with a “to-do” list that’s a mile long.  There are groceries to buy.  Dry cleaning to be picked up.  Yard work to be done.  Work emails that to respond to.  So, I enter the weekend with my Saturday and Sunday not looking a lot different from my Monday or Tuesday.  No matter how busy my week’s been, my inclination is usually to wake up on Saturday morning and dutifully begin to strike off things off my to-do list.

Because, as far as I’m concerned, those things really need to be done.

The grass does need to be cut.  We really do need some groceries.  If I’m going to wear the blue suit to court on Monday, it does have to get picked up from the dry cleaners downtown.

And those emails from work that I never responded to last week?  They certainly need to be taken care of—heaven forbid that a colleague or client believe that I’m not responsive.  Is there anything worse than to be called “lazy” in a profession that measures self-worth by how much we get done and where exhaustion is considered a status symbol?

That’s the rub, isn’t it?

If we measure our self-worth by how much we get done, rarely (if ever) are we going to find days available for doing nothing.   In the face of all that needs to get done, the idea of a day without a to-do list is an anxiety attack waiting to happen.  I have so much to do and so little time to do it, the idea of spending time unrelated to my to-do list actually creates more stress that it relieves.

Playing, doing nothing, is an utter waste of time.  I’ve got to get ‘er done!

Or do I?

Does the grass really have to be cut?  What if we ride our bikes to the farmer’s market to buy fresh vegetables for dinner instead of spending three hours at the gym and fighting the crowd at Harris Teeter?  What if I just wear the gray slacks and blazer hanging  in my closet on Monday instead of driving across town to the dry cleaners?

And those emails I haven’t returned?  Won’t they still be there on Monday?  Is my law practice going to collapse because I don’t spend a Saturday morning chained to a computer.

I’m not suggesting that we arbitrarily give ourselves a pass on our basic obligations and responsibilities.  But I am finding that the great bulk of what shows up on my to-do list…the great bulk of those things I feel “obligated” to do…can usually be put off for a little while while I care for myself.  And if caring for myself can become just as important as getting ‘er done, I might find myself living a very different (and much better) life.


That’s more than enough preaching for one blog post.  I just thought if I carried on fervently enough, it might suffice for a sermon.

And, if so, you could strike one more thing off your weekend to-do list…

One thought on “A Day Without a To-Do List

  1. This is a very great point. Sometimes we get so caught up in needing to get things done that we don’t spend time caring for ourselves. It is very easy to get burned out if we don’t rest or take some “me-time.” But always in moderation.

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