• Bethany


Okay, I need to talk more about my list-free life.*

This weekend has seen a surprising burst of productivity. To be honest, I haven't had a productive week in a while, it seems. I've actually been avoiding pushing myself in school/work. Part of me is afraid of sliding back to the stressed-out, burnt-out person I have been. The Inner Critic is very harsh, and very subtle, and I have spent the last few months proving to myself that productivity is not all there is to me.

But lately things have been piling up again. A concert, a recital, another concert that I'm covering just in case the real performer can't make it, a looming deadline for my monograph proposal, ethics edits just kind of hanging around, sorting through the last bits of moving. I took two weeks off of school (I should say: off of everything that wasn't absolutely necessary. Still had lessons and teaching etc) because I'm the primary one for packing and unpacking stuff, and that takes a fair bit of time.

But, even though I know it was the best choice, two weeks of no school or work means I've been feeling the weight of being not enough again. It scares me, because I know how heavy that weight can get if not properly managed, but it also awakens that little core of steel in me that is determined that this is not going to be what gets me. Each evening I lay in bed and consciously say to myself: "You have done enough. You will have everything done in time. You did what you could today and it will be enough. Are your expectations reasonable? You feel bad for not doing things, but you cannot learn all your music/write all your edits/unpack all your boxes in one day. You made steps, and that's all you can do. That's all you need to do." Some nights its easier to say and hear than others, but overall it helps, I think. Talking about it helps, too. Just telling someone who cares and understands: "I'm feeling overwhelmed and I'm scared of getting sucked back in to a whirlpool of harsh inner dialogue" helps things seem less scary. Funny how talking about things makes them seem so much less frightening, isn't it? I'm pleasantly surprised by it again and again.

Let me paint the scene of this week: Monday and Tuesday I did yoga, cleaned the house, had little cry about what I was going to do with my life after the DMA, gave a sightsinging final, and received a random text from an acquaintance who had a friend who was giving away a Wednesday matinee ticket and bus ride to see "Come From Away" in Toronto. Guess who just happened to have no firm plans on Wednesday and got to go see her second-ever professionally-produced musical?! What a gift! Plus, as a loyal Newfie, I loved seeing a musical about home. On the bus I cackled at the hilarious scuttlebutt among the seniors, studied my score, and listened to recordings of a bunch of the music I need to learn. I felt so much better studying the music instead of fretting about how little time I have to learn it. Thursday I had a great lesson and practice in the morning. In the afternoon, I stayed home and watched Netflix. Friday I had a very motivational meeting with one of my supervisors, which spurred a flurry of activity on the monograph as well as a long practice session on Saturday. I don't normally work on the weekends, but I was feeling really motivated and wanted to have the satisfaction of sending my work in on Monday. I think it will be all ready. And honestly, my work doesn't require that I be available during the work week. If I want to work on a Saturday, that is cool. I'll probably be watching Netflix on Tuesday.

That was a great recap, but why am I telling you all this? Well. The whole week was done with 0 to-do lists. Zero. Not one. Not even a hint of one. As someone who formerly made at least a list a day, this life would have seemed nuts to Past Beth. But I'm telling you, it's the only way to go.

The weekend that we moved, a friend came over to help me unpack boxes. She was very surprised when she pulled out a completed bullet journal "You actually finished one?!" Darling, I've finished two and was well into a third by November. I had only started bullet journalling about 18 months before. This is the level of list-making I was at, people.

While talking to my mother on the phone the other day, I casually mentioned that I haven't made a to-do list in almost 6 months. I said I was feeling pressure from everything I need to do and have felt that should make a list but had been resisting the urge. Surprised that her list-loving daughter (the one who sold her on bullet journalling, lol) had taken so long a hiatus, she asked why I didn't make one now. To my own surprise, I explained that it's because making a list means that I'm feeling so worried about something I put it down on paper so I can feel that it's under control. But writing making the list - and looking at it later - only makes me more anxious. My own explanation really surprised me. I've obviously known for months that making lists was a bad idea, but I couldn't quite figure out why. I thought about it, but hadn't really ironed out why it was that making a list suddenly seemed like a scary, bad thing to do when before it seemed like such a helpful, stress-reducing thing... Talking to my mom, I realized that -for me, at this time in my life- making a list is a sign that I'm feeling so much pressure about the many facets of my life that I admit to having more than I can do or control. A list provides a temporary, tempting way to feel that I am in control. But it doesn't quite work. Seeing all those items written down fills me with a sense of dread. When can I cross these off? You can't cross "Learn music" off until after the performance. There is always more to polish in my music. I never step back and go "Ah yes, I have completely memorized and internalized everything this piece has for me to communicate and I will also be able to have original, new ideas at every performance without thinking." Music is never done. Which is why you shouldn't put it on a list.

You see, the list-less life has really shown me that I will remember the important things at the right time. I don't need to make a list because I will know in the moment what the best thing is to do next. I'll remember that I have to memorize my music, and when the time is right I'll go to the practice room and work, and I'll know what I need to do. When the time is right, I'll listen to recordings on the bus to the grocery store. I'll remember that my dishes need to be done or the bathroom needs to be cleaned or those boxes unpacked. I don't need to write down "Listen to recordings" "Unpack boxes" "Do dishes" because I won't forget any of those things. And when I'm ready to do them, they'll be there.

For me, making lists is a way to fret about all that needs to be done without actually doing anything concrete about it. I am a queen of being paralyzed with stress and fear, and a list feeds into that inaction. With no list to look at, I simply ask "What next?" or, sometimes "What am I most worried about?","What's at the top of my mind right now?" This tactic keeps me in the getting-things-done zone instead of the make-a-list-and-sit-there-worrying zone. It keeps me in the moment; it requires that I check in with how I'm feeling (very hard for me to do). When the things I need to do are piling up (like it is these days), sometimes I think making a list, just a little list, will help me remember everything, or take some of the pressure off. But I guess I've known intuitively that making that list will not make things better, and will only make them worse. Just visualizing a list gives me the heebie-jeebies. I've resisted The List so far, and nothing important has fallen by the wayside. I haven't been unprepared for meetings or deadlines or performances. And, ultimately, being an action-centred, what is to do in this moment-centred headspace is what really keeps the worry under control, what really keeps the Inner Critic quiet. Sometimes I do work, and it feels like scratching an itch because I know I'm moving forward in something I'm worried about. But sometimes I say "You need a break. Here's a whole season of Outlander that you didn't know was on Netflix!" I think I'm getting the hang of breaks and work time. Totally list-free.**

*This concept of a list-free life makes me think of free-range chickens. I'd just like to give you that visualization, too. I feel free to stroll and peck around happily instead of in a small cage with my beak cut off. List-free living has had that big of an impact.

**I should say here that I do keep a calendar of meetings and rehearsals. But I don't count that as a list. You understand the difference.

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