zenhabits : breathe

The Daily Checklist

‘A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules.’ ~Anthony Trollope

By Leo Babauta

Here’s a problem worth solving: am I doing the thing I most need to be doing right now?

How do you figure that out?

You might be reading this article, but should you be doing something more important? Or checking on email or social media to see if there’s something else important you should be doing? There’s an anxiety that many people feel when it comes to this question, on a fairly regular basis throughout the day.

The secret to solving this problem is:

1) to learn to trust yourself; and
2) let go of the worry

Both parts are important. I’ll show how to use a daily checklist as a tool for learning to trust yourself.

Learning to Trust Yourself

If you trust that you’ll get the important stuff done each day, and you know that you have good instincts for deciding what needs to be done, you can let go of the worry.

The worry comes when you don’t really believe you’re going to get the important stuff done.

You look at other people, and they all seem to be doing cooler or bigger or more important stuff than you’re doing. OK, maybe not your lame brother-in-law, but pretty much everyone else on Facebook and Twitter.

You look at yourself, and think, “Hmmm … maybe this isn’t the best thing to be doing … maybe I could be doing something better, more urgent, more productive … maybe I should change my goals? Maybe I should do some reading to figure it out?”

And so you search. But honestly, while it’s good to ask these questions now and then, sometimes it’s best just to choose something and dive in, and not worry about whether it’s the “perfect choice”. A decent choice is much, much better than being paralyzed by worry and not choosing at all.

So trust that things are going to turn out OK, even if you haven’t made the perfect choice.

The Daily Checklist

A good tool for learning to trust yourself to do all the important stuff is to make a daily checklist. Put 5-7 things on there. Try to get almost all of them done each day, but know that it’s not always fated to happen. Often things that aren’t in your control come up and change your plans.

The checklist doesn’t have to be perfect. Choose 5-7 things you think need to be done each day, at a minimum.

Here’s an example of what I think a good checklist might contain:

Notice that social media, reading news, watching TV, checking email, browsing my favorite sites, sharing photos … none of these are on the list. If I’m doing one of these things and not one of my daily checklist items, I’m probably not doing the right thing.

Over time, your daily checklist might change. But just having one helps you to evaluate what’s important and what’s not.

And when you learn to do this, on an instinctive level, then you can begin to trust yourself, and let go of the worry. Then you can get back to the work, and smile.

Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close;
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night’s repose
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow



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