On Life

What If I’m Not Doing My Best?

The meme we posted on our Facebook account (“Be gentle with yourself. You’re doing the best you can.”) got me to thinking.

I’m not doing the best I can. I’m really not.

I write a to-do list everyday. I have a pretty fuchsia-and-turquoise to-do list notepad that I got from Amazon and matching fuchsia and turquoise sharpie pens. I use them every day. When I write my daily to-do list, I only put things on it that I can realistically accomplish in a day, maybe two. So the list is basically one I can accomplish on any given day.

And yet I rarely accomplish the whole list.

If I have a lot to do and am feeling pressure, I’ll get most of them done. But never all. Even if the last couple of things are simple ones that I could easily finish off.

If I am not feeling any pressure? If I have a lot of free time? Most don’t get done. Sometimes none of them get done.

I started writing this post in my head a week or so ago when I first posted that meme, but then I left on a trip and didn’t have time to write my thoughts on this. In the meantime, Susan posted about deadlines. She covered some of what I was thinking, so I almost didn’t write this post at all, but then I realized that the core of what I am trying to get across is not about deadlines.

Anything on my list that has a deadline gets done. Period. I am known at my company for not only meeting deadlines, but beating them into submission, even the “impossible” ones. Clients request me because of this. Colleagues actually slack and give me their work because they know they can’t meet their deadlines, but if those deadlines become mine, I will meet them. Mary and Susan have witnessed this a gazillion times over the years, especially since Mary and I worked at the same company for more than a decade.

So, deadlines aside, to me, it’s about what’s on my plate. How busy I am. I guess there’s some clichés about what I’m trying to say that could illustrate my point.

“If you want something done, ask a busy person.”

“Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”

A paraphrasing of Newton’s First Law of Motion without all of that pesky science-y stuff so that it applies to human nature and not just physics. “A body at rest will remain at rest, and a body in motion will remain in motion.”

And my favorite, by Douglas Coupland. “Too much free time is certainly a monkey’s paw in disguise. Most people can’t handle a structureless life.” (Not only is it a great quote, but it gets bonus points for referencing one of my favorite short stories from middle school English. Okay, not so much favorite as freaked me the fork out and made me think and I still am haunted by the story and its message 34 years later, but who’s counting?)

Yes, I know–it’s lazy writing handing this post off to clichés, but I am trying to point out that I am not the only one who feels this way

So what is it about free time that makes us fritter it away? Why is it more rewarding this minute to play a mindless iPhone game or scroll through relentless social media posts or watch mind-numbing YouTube videos rather than do something fulfilling, something productive, something that you know will ultimately bring you more happiness and fulfillment than winning some stupid crown in a game?

I know I’m going through a weird time right now. I am running up and down the state, supervising construction on one house, cleaning out decades worth of stuff from another house getting ready for an estate sale and move to a smaller property. I have really meaningful, interesting work to absorb myself in.

But when I am not doing those things–which come in ebbs and flows–when I have some spare time to do something really creative, something really rewarding, when I have a day to myself that is not filled with obligations, why do I create a really meaningful to-do list and then ignore it?

How do I make myself do my best when all I want to do is lie on the couch and be useless? Even when I know in the long-run that is going to make me feel worse?

How do I do my best more often?


  • Julia Stephanie Tasker

    Oh, this so speaks to me. I have always loved lists, and I have always needed downtime me-time. I will never be the busiest person, but when I am busy-for me- then I am more productive, and I’m happier, too.
    The advent of devices and social media have sucked out a sliver of my soul, and I have been complicit in this.
    But, and it’s a big but, sometimes inertia is inevitable. Sometimes it is essential. The couch version of you, my dearest Dana, is still a part of the best version of you. Time your downtime, if you need to. Ten minutes on the game app- then take a walk or change your bed or cut up the veggies for dinner. It probably sounds silly, but for listy people like us, it can help. Put your chill out things on your to do list, too. But whatever gets done or gets lost, you are still you- loved, valuable, allowed to fall down sometimes.

  • Mary Allen

    If it’s bringing you pleasure, is it really frittering your time? I agree with Julia that you deserve your downtime.

    As I am the world’s worst procrastinator, that’s my story, and I am sticking to it! 🙂

    In all seriousness, NOBODY can do what you do. It would take 10 people to make one you. I am often in awe at how much you can get done. I vote you go a little easier on yourself and revel in your awesomeness.

    In other words…give yourself a forking break! 🙂

  • Dana

    Julia and Mary, you are so good for me! Thank you so much for your kind words. {{hugs}}

    And, Julia, great idea to put chilling on my to-do list! I can see that working for me. I so appreciate the suggestion.

  • Deanna

    Somewhere along the line, we, society, the world, collectively decided to agree on the fallacy that only the things that sound or feel like work, or that can be labeled as ‘productive’ had value. The rest gets belittled, deprecated, dismissed as a waste. Add a result, we’re left holding ourselves to a standard which is difficult to achieve occasionally and impossible to consistently maintain.

    I think, deep down, our souls realize this fallacy and they try to tell our minds, try to teach us, to show us there is value to the stillness, to silliness, to rest, to play.

    For those of us with pets, these fuzzy little external souls know this, and they certainly try to teach us. I’ve seen my dog physically push my laptop away from me, bestowing a look of utter disappointment and and pity on me when I insist that, “No, I have to finish this now.”

    It’s counter intuitive to high achievers, but sometimes stepping away is necessary. Sometimes you need to try something harder, but sometimes you need to try something different. And sometimes you need to take an evening or a day to figure out which.

    I think to get the most out of life we need to remember to give value to what brings us joy. What happened to us as a society to bring us to the point of not only forgetting thi value that, but actually redefining the soul nurturing concept of Fostering Joy as a Waste of Time?

    It’s a trap. It’s a trap and a lie. The insidious thing about it is it seems to affect most the 20% who are already doing 80% of the work.

    I struggle with this too, often having thoughts like, “I wonder what I could accomplish if I ever actually tried.”

    What about a mindset shift? What if we looked at our to do lists every night and instead of saying, Look how much I didn’t finish today,” we said, “Look how much I got done today. I’m grateful I still have something to do tomorrow.”

    And as long as we’re tossing in quotes to make our points, some advice from Roald Dahl:

    “A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.”

    What if you’re not doing your best? So what? The people who mattet love you the way you are. Do more if you want. Strive for your best. Just know you don’t have to.

    You are already enough.

  • Dana

    Deanna, what an amazing response, and so true. There are some “downtime” activities that my brain does find acceptable (reading, for example), but I feel so absolutely useless when I just sit and play iPad games–even though that’s what my brain is telling me I need right then because iPad games are mindless and focusing on the written word is just too much for my brain to handle during those times.

    “I wonder what I could accomplish if I ever actually tried.” is a very common thought for me, as well.

    I like the new mindset of “look what I can accomplish tomorrow” rather than seeing the not-checked-off items as mocking me.

    Thank you, sweetie!

  • Susan

    I very much agree with the others, even though I often find myself struggling with the same things you’re mentioning above. (And I will agree with Mary that no one can do what you can and accomplish what you do when you put your mind to something.)

    I’ve seen several things lately about how your mind actually needs boredom and lack of activity to BE creative. You hear about how people come up with ideas in the shower or when they’re driving somewhere. But I think it’s precisely that lack of activity–that lack of stimulation for the brain that lets your mind go wild in the idea department to compensate. I’ve thought of so many ideas on long car trips or when I’m in the shower. I think there’s really something to it about letting your mind have some rest from stimuli so that it can be creative.

    But I know for me (and most likely for you, too) that there’s always a drive toward the perfect. Always wanting to better yourself. Always feeling guilty for not being better than you are. It’s hard to put that aside. I struggle with that all the time.

    Still trying to give myself grace and to be patient with myself. Allowing the ebbs and flows of my life to work in my favor rather than to be something I club myself over the head with.

    Not easy, though! *hugs*

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