I had a conversation with another junior faculty friend this semester about an overwhelmed feeling we were both experiencing. For both of us, the source of overwhelm seemed to be located in the ever-expanding to do lists we organized our lives by. While there was a sense of satisfaction in getting to check things off the list, the list as often produced experiences of panic ( I sometimes felt might heart race after looking at mine), failure (not crossing off enough), and entrapment. This last, feeling trapped by the to do list is something I've found particularly horrifying.
I've started calling it "living in the list." Living in the checklist feels like I am serving the list rather than it serving me. It's an experience of constantly ticking through to dos in my head, including during my writing, meditation, and yoga practices. It's also an experience that doesn't allow for downtime, relaxation, or spontaneity because the list-mind is constantly supplying the next thing that could be checked off.
For me, the list was starting to hurt more than it helped.
Recently, I've started experimenting with another way. Using Kerry Ann Rockquemore's Sunday Meeting idea (https://facultydiversity.site-ym.com/), I've been scheduling my to dos into a week and then trying to set aside whatever doesn't fit into the schedule as not happening during the week. A big part of the scheduling involves making time for things like writing long-term projects, yoga, and spending time with my husband--things that are not satisfyingly check-offable list items, but which are far more important. On good weeks, I've even tried to block in a little time for taking breaks.
With this scheduling system, I've found that my mind is a little less chattery. I have clearly scheduled blocks of time organizing my day, as opposed to my old method of trying to squeeze in as many things as possible before crashing to sleep. I haven't perfected this system, but so far it seems more sustainable than living in the list.
Get a Life, PhD
The Professor is In
The Thesis Whisperer
Tenure, She Wrote