how to change the world

Living between To Do and Done

By John-Paul Flintoff

Recently, I’ve been overwhelmed with big things happening to people who are precious to me – serious illness, and death.

I’ve been sad, and shaken. For weeks, I’ve wanted to tell everyone: “Hey, that thing you’re worried about? It doesn’t matter. It’s not important. You’re ALIVE!” I’ve wanted to post dreamy pictures with that sentiment on Facebook. I’ve wanted to tweet it every five minutes. It’s only with great difficulty that I’ve restrained myself.

Meanwhile, I have seriously lost track of my life. I’ve fallen behind on emails, failed to deliver things I promised to deliver, and been unable at times to concentrate on whatever I was doing.

Because in the grand scheme of things nothing matters, right?

But of course it does matter. I’m still alive – lucky me – and I may yet live for a long time. I have commitments to projects and to people.

So I am trying to live consciously in a paradox. To live fully in accordance with two mutually exclusive ideas:

  1. This day might be my last
  2. I may live for a very long time

It’s hard.

One way I’m doing that, pedestrian though it may sound, is by restarting my To Do list. I started the first new one in several weeks, today, and I felt a lot better – like I was back in control of my life, at least a little. After so much uncertainty, I know where I’m going again.

Here’s how I use the list: I prioritise items by giving them a number (see left-hand margin). After a few days, having completed many or most of them, I write a new list, transferring any incomplete items from the old one. And, I always keep the old piece of paper – no longer a To Do but a Done list – because it’s motivating to see what I’ve been able to manage. (If I didn’t do that, I might feel like I was never getting anywhere.)

If I find myself transferring the same items from one list to the next, again and again, I let them go: I obviously didn’t really want to do them enough. And this helps me to live within that paradox – in that space between To Do and Done.

Posted: April 28, 2015