Permission to — occasionally — set aside lists and planning

Last Friday, I attended my brother-in-law’s funeral. After we pause for a moment to say our favorite curse words about cancer, I wanted to share a post about setting aside planning and productivity once in a while.

I’ll be reaaaalllly honest about my love of planning and organization. I know we’ve just met, but I’m a Northern California girl, and I have been known to sprinkle the word “authenticity” into a conversation or two.



Here it is: While it’s true that I need to be organized to make sure I don’t leave a kid at practice or miss a deadline for work, one of the main reasons I’m drawn to planning is emotional. Sometimes (cough:: most of the time:: cough), life is messy and out of my control. My brother-in-law’s rapid decline from melanoma. The loss felt acutely by my sister and her children. The drought in California. Traffic jams. The list goes on.

It’s actually liberating to acknowledge that life is messy and we don’t have the power to micromanage every detail. Aside from being exhausting to have that much responsibility, it would rob of us the joy that comes from spontaneity and serendipity. On the other hand, I draw comfort from being intentional about the things I can control. Enter my love of lists, journals, routines, and calendars! If you’re here, you likely understand the satisfaction of getting thoughts on paper and ticking off items from one of your lists. Admit it…a good list and ticking off each box can fill you with a sense of joy and accomplishment. You OWNED that day!

I had a long list of things to do Friday afternoon, but when I returned home from the funeral, I remained immersed in the love, sense of loss, and reflection that funerals trigger. And I was utterly drained. Not depressed. Really. It was a beautiful and moving experience to hear how one person impacted the lives of many, but I had zero motivation to do work that afternoon, despite the fact that my list felt even more compacted because I’d missed a morning of writing and research! Frankly, I was not interested in digging deep to focus at my desk. I just wasn’t.

So I gave myself permission to abandon the day’s list. Without guilt. My bullet journal list on Friday had a ton of arrows, indicating that I moved those unfinished items forward to another day.

Guess what? The world was not knocked off its axis.

Yes, my Saturday list was a little bit of a doozy, but I survived…as did my adviser, my writing partner, and my family.

There are some days that aren’t made for lists and maximizing productivity. They can be days spent off the grid with your loved ones, playing in a tide pool. They can be days when you’re under the weather. As long as these days are more of an exception, we should embrace our need to set aside a list. In sports, we talk about “listening to your body.” There are also days when we need to listen to our spirit, and not just honor our need to leave a list undone, but do so without shame or a sense that we should have done more…been more.

Friday was that day for me, and I feel infinitely better for it.


One thought on “Permission to — occasionally — set aside lists and planning

  1. kanalt17

    What a great post. I’m so sorry about your brother-in-law. It’s tough to remember that while we might love lists and planning and getting stuff done, there are more important things in the world that we need to focus on from time to time. I have a difficult time letting go of my to do lists once in a while. But when I do, it’s very liberating. It’s not me, however, so it doesn’t last for ever. Taking a break from it every now and then is a breath of fresh air.


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