Continuing the “Life lessons” series (see previous entry in this series for details) one of the lessons from Richard Carlson’s book is:
“Remind yourself that when you die, your ‘In basket’ won’t be empty”
In short, the lesson is about how your “to do” list fits into your life. The author brings up the perception that many of us have: that our ‘to-do’ list is only temporary; and once we get through the list, we’ll be calm, relaxed, and happy – and can spend time with our loved ones, and do the things we love to do.
But the reality, as you’ve probably realised, is that this simply is not true. There’s always something else on the list. There’s always more stuff you need to “do”; more stuff to “take care of”, “handle”, “get out of the way.”
The author makes the point that the very nature of this ‘to-do list’ is that it’s meant to have uncompleted tasks on it…it’s NOT meant to be empty. A full ‘to-do list’ means your time is in demand – which is probably a good sign (unless, of course, most of the items on that list are non-beneficial things).
I’m very guilty of letting my ‘to do list’ stress me out, making me feel so constricted that I sometimes end up mistreating others because I can’t manage my frustration (which, by the way, is part of another post I hope to do – on Emotional Intelligence).
So anyway, the author’s solution to this endless ‘to-do list’ problem is that we need to realise that we should not let ourselves be consumed by the responsibilities / tasks we face. Our first priority should be our own inner calmness and happiness. If we obsess about ‘getting things done’ all the time, we’re always on the go, and we’ll never be calm, and we’ll never have a healthy balance or a good sense of well-being.
So, prioritise what’s really important, and for the things that are not so urgent or significant, don’t obsess about getting it done.
The extreme implementation of this advice is procrastination – which, of course, I’m not advocating.
What I’m saying is, we need to approach this ‘to-do list’ with the right perception: a balanced perspective that lets us see things for what they really are; rather than the obsessive “must get it all done” mode – or the lazy “I’ll do everything later” attitude.
The author closes with the advice that life isn’t about getting everything done. We should try to enjoy each step of the way. And at the end of your life, there will still be things on your ‘to-do list’ – but you won’t be worrying about them at that point.
To add an Islamic perspective: prioritise your tasks with consciousness of your Creator in mind. The most important things are those that are loved by Allah: the duties made obligatory on you (duties towards Allah, such as salaah; as well as duties towards your family and creation), and then everything else extra / non-obligatory which will earn His pleasure (e.g. doing your work with excellence, showing patience in the face of hardship, etc).
Those two categories pretty much cover everything in life – because Islam is a complete way of life which should permeate through everything we do.
So, in essence, my addition to the author’s lesson is to manage our to-do lists with taqwa. And, insha-Allah, it’ll make a world of difference in not only the way we manage those lists, but in the way we live our lives.
(Source: “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff,” by Richard Carlson; and Personal reflection)