July 10, 2012

What Would You Do if You Had Nothing to Do?

I wrote recently here about my mania with to-do lists and getting carried away with how much we think we can accomplish. But what if there were no such thing as a to-do list? Yes, I know, the world as we know it would come to an abrupt halt because no one would remember to do anything. Yikes!

Well, maybe. That's probably what I'd think on my most hurry-hurry-ding-ding* days. And if your list is attached to you like one of those sad tethered children at the mall, you may be having similar thoughts right now.

But stay with me.

What if tomorrow the universe suffered a temporary bout of amnesia about to-dos in general?
What if as a side effect we also lost the ability to feel guilty, or anxious, or angry, or annoyed, about what we weren't "getting done"?

Even better, what if there were no repercussions for not crossing something off the list?

Your boss won't care that you don't turn in the weekly report; your mother won't mind that you don't call; your son's lunch will appear magically on the kitchen counter, nutritionally sound and artfully packed.

But wait. It gets better.

Your boss emails that she'd rather write the report herself and tells you to take the day off, your mother decides to take the initiative and call you, and your son asks to pack his own lunch. And so it goes for anything else that might have been on that pesky to-do list that no longer exists. 

So. You have an entire day to yourself. A whole day. To yourself.

There is nothing you have to do.

What do you do?

*from the 1968 film, Sweet November, in which free spirit Sandy Dennis vows to get Anthony Newley, a British businessman, to relax and to cure him of his unhealthy fixation with time. She refers to his problem as "hurry-hurry-ding-ding" because he's always looking at his watch and waiting for its alarm to ring.


  1. When I was in a period of intense transition...quitting my job, going on the road with my husband's business, etc., I suffered from an identity crisis. Who was I without my work? What would I do at 38 years old? I had been working since I was 14! But a friend told me to observe myself for 1 month, and notice what my attention was drawn towards when I had nothing that I had to do...well..I was beading and had a lot of pleasure there. So, I started doing more of it, and one thing led to another, and now I am immersed full time making metal jewelry for a living and thrilled. What you do when you don't have anything you have to do is very revealing...and should be taken very seriously. Great post...

    1. Stacie, that's good advice from your friend. I've been through a few transitions myself, and paying attention to what I'm doing and feeling during those periods made a big difference. When our "busy-ness" is taken away from us, we're forced either to find what we love or realize that we thought we loved isn't as important as we thought. Yours is the best-case scenario: you saw what you cared for and now you're making your living from it. Congrats!

  2. Today, I love the work I'm doing at my client's office, so I'd be happy to keep doing this. But I'd also love to saddle up and go for a long trail ride or take a dressage lesson!

    1. Linda, a long trail ride sounds absolutely heavenly (and I've never even been on a horse!).