Task Mastery

A pile-up of things to do drifted in on my email and messaging apps the last few weeks and my to-do list expanded way too fast. An unfinished letter, a half-done report for a grant, exams to grade, paperwork to file, a broken printer, and much more, all with a deadline. My yard-to-do box was already full: thirsty trees, an unpainted gutter, an unplanted bush, a broken flower box. Suddenly, the great goddess of finishing things left the premises.

Nothing was getting done. I was freaking out. Guilty as charged. Did I do this? Overreach, over-promise, over-commit? Or had the universe just dumped on me because it can, and I’ve been such a willing co-conspirator, so competent, reliable and compliant. Then the ‘to-dos’ became ‘wanabees’ and more of their pals appeared. They arrived one by one like needy tourists and planted themselves like annoying trolls in my psyche.

Excuses surged through me. It’s too much, too many at once. I m not superwoman, can’t they go away? Too many distractions, too much going on, everyone so anxious, where are we going anyway? Can’t I sage them away, banish them to another time and place? But those unfinished tasks with ‘wannabee to-do’ personas didn’t budge, they just sat there wanting to be fed, wanting the attention I didn’t feel like giving them. Maybe my obsessing about them empowered them.

I regrouped. Maybe it was my beliefs and values that caused this. Beliefs in accomplishments, achievements, and personal perfection. A layer of cultural conditioning. All ridiculous when you come to think about it …overrated ideas that take advantage of one’s capacity to be who one really is. I was spending so much energy worrying about getting things done, nothing was getting done. But the more I ignored the ‘to do’s’ the more they implored. Their bug eyes grew in intensity.

I remember something a wise person once said. Dr. Jim Mackey was a brilliant psychologist and also Sufi master at the University of Maryland. He talked about changes in awareness and in consciousness that we all experience at different times. He said sometimes it does not matter who you are and what you have accomplished. You try to work but nothing gets done. Things that were routine become overwhelming. Sometimes it’s more intense. You cannot get organized. Nothing stays in your head very long. You cannot function because things are pouring in and out of you.

Most important, he said, this is a normal state. It’s your subconscious telling you something. Don’t ignore it. Just go with it. In such a state you let go. Chill out. Let everything that is coming through you work itself out. Let everything go and do something you haven’t done for a while. Go to the beach, take a hike, and clear out your thoughts and your feelings. Don’t try to solve anything. Give your conscious self a break. When you do this the answer can come crystal clear.

I figured I had nothing to lose. I remembered days in the past when I did this. Sit for a whole day doing nothing. Just emptying out. Not thinking, not doing. Letting feelings and sensations course through and then letting them go. Going quiet.

It took me a day to settle down. On day 2, I consciously did nothing except sleep and eat and relax for a whole day. On the morning of the 3rd day, I had figured it out. It was very simple really. A basic tenet. Mainly I had let the ‘wannabee to dos’ get the upper hand, dominate my thinking, and throw me off-kilter. They conned me and I fell for it. Or maybe I conned myself into giving them power over me.

The teaching: shift my own thinking 180 degrees and vision them all as already done. At once the ‘to-do’s’ became much quieter. So quiet that I could focus. As they transformed into doneness, they flew away along with their friends who had provided way too much background noise.

Things that had been done by others that I needed then came in the mail. And people who I hadn’t heard from in a long while suddenly showed up. I knew whatever I needed to do would get done.