On the Tyranny of Checklists


(CHECK List) If only mine actually looked like this. (Image sourced from edutopia.org.)

(CHECK List) If only mine actually looked like this. (Image sourced from edutopia.org.)

Today, after nearly two weeks of focused and intentional activity, I arrived at the bottom of my most urgent checklist—comprised almost exclusively of tasks that had been delayed or postponed during the last Christmas holidays.

Strangely, there was no feeling of relief—no sense of satisfaction at having gotten various important things done. Instead, what emerged was a sense of exhausted dismay. The thought was: Great, now I’ve got time to do ALL the other things which aren’t urgent but just as important. Staring at my interminable list of tasks, the dismay deepened to a debilitating melancholy.

Aware that sitting at my desk would only exacerbate the funk, I took off to the balcony with an audio lecture of Tara Brach (this is as much of a dependency as I’ll permit myself). Within minutes, clarity emerged. This was one of the deepest and most enduring patterns of my life: I always wanted to get things done because at the tail-end of the “final” accomplishment, I would finally be able to give myself over to rest.

Lying on my yoga mat listening to Tara Brach was the first time it truly occurred to me now that there would never be a final accomplishment (unless you redefine that phrase as the last thing you literally do before you die) because life is a perpetual busy-ness. Existence takes a massive amount of energy (that we find this energy somehow is a huge part of what makes life so miraculous) and if I was working myself hard to achieve an illusory state of profound leisure—well, that just wasn’t going to happen.

After thirty-plus years, it finally hit me.

(Yes, I’m a genius when it comes to many things—and a moron in all the ones that count.)

So I came up with a capital idea: I’m going to continue making my checklists. Every day, I’ll have a list of things I need to do. And, when I’m done with my list, I’m not going to do anything else. I’m not going to move on to the next thing I need to do. I’m going to sit down, put my feet up and twiddle my thumbs if I have to.

And, if it gets really hard just sitting there, I’m going to put on Tara Brach.

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