The Rockwood Files: The Other To-Do List

By Gwen Rockwood, columnist and mama of 3

I love a list. I write out a new “to do” list at least four or five times a week because it keeps me focused. Plus I get that little wave of control freak satisfaction when I mark through a task.

The thing is, though, there’s never anything fun on the list. Today’s page has about 12 things on it, and it’s all work, chores, errands and phone calls to return.

My Puritan work ethic says that’s how it should be, that life is not all “fun and games.” But living by the list starts to make life feel like no fun and games. One “to do” list begets another and another. The list dictates the day, and I trudge through it obediently.

Well, today I got sick of the list. Fed up, and burned out. I set it aside and made a new one called the “Other To Do” list – one that includes the things I’d rather be doing “other” than the things on the first list. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

1. Take a nap without setting the alarm for a time to wake up.

2. Sit in a hot bath until the water gets cold and then fill it up again with hot water.

3. Get a massage and a manicure.

4. Go to the movies.

5. Sit in a quiet room and read a great book.

6. Take a photography class.

7. Call the friends I haven’t talked to in months.

8. Fall asleep on a blanket under a shade tree.

9. Have a tickle fight with the kids in the living room floor.

10. Walk the neighborhood without ever wondering how many calories I’m burning.

These are the things I have every intention of doing once the first list gets done. Because once I’m all done, I can enjoy these things without that pesky Puritanical guilt about shirking the work. It sounds like a good plan, but who am I kidding? The “to do” list is never going to be finished. Every time I get close, four or five new things crop up and get added to the list and carried over to the next day.

So I think it’s time to get serious about doing a few things on the “other” list. I can’t keep waiting for that magical window of time that never seems to open up. And I desperately need the things on the “other” list to help re-energize me to do the things on the first list.

My brother Greg knew this stuff instinctively. He was the master of the “other” list and marked through the fun stuff quite regularly. He never passed on the opportunity to go out for a great meal. He laid on the beach every chance he got. He went on a cruise, jumped off a crane on a bungee cord, bought shirts he really liked without waiting for the sale, and he acted like a total goofball whenever it suited him. I marveled at his sense of freedom to go and do mostly what he wanted, tucking the work stuff in and around his larger objective, which was to have fun. He never let a “to do” list put a stranglehold on his life.

His instinct for living at full throttle turned out to be a very good thing because his life ended long before anyone thought it would. He died seven years ago when he was 34. One of the few comforts we had was knowing he had already done many of the things he’d wanted to do. He never held back.

For me, one of the biggest lessons of his life and death is knowing how quickly things can change. We can’t control our lives with a list or a carefully planned schedule. We have to roll with the punches and try to do all we can to avoid looking back and saying “I wish I had done…” Fill in your own blank.

My brother would have turned 42 this week. So to celebrate his birthday, I’m going to post my “other” list on the fridge and mark something off it at least once a week for the rest of the year. That’s a tall order for a self-confessed workaholic. But if I’m going to live by a list, I want the list to “get a life.”

What’s on your “other” list? And when are you getting started?

1 Comment

  1. What a wonderful way to honor your brother’s memory. As a mom and avid listmaker, I should write a list of this type every so often.

    I’m happy to get on board with you for #3, #5, and #10.

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