The Sisyphus List

hexocularHere are a few items on my to-do list for today:  Watch Netflix movie and return it (!).  Do laundry.  Organize desk. Pay bills.  Gather food (grocery store, farmers’ market). Prep food (soup stock, vegetables, mac cream).  This stuff just never stops in my household, and yours too, I’m sure. These things are permanently on the to-do list.  Sometimes, their relentless presence and neediness drive me crazy.  It’s just exhausting.  And here’s the true frustration of these pesky items:  within minutes of getting them done, they’re back on the list again.  Right?  Years ago, in a little book called Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, Richard Carlson said, “When you die, there will be something in your in-box.”  Same way with laundry.  When they cart you off to the funeral home, there will be dirty underwear in your utility room.  Nice thought, huh?

So maybe we need to think about those items in a different way,

and even put them on a different kind of list, the list that we know we know we’ll never conquer.  We might call this the Sisyphus list.  Like the boulder that Sisyphus rolled endlessly up the mountain only to have it roll back down requiring him to start all over again, the items of my Sisyphus list will just keep popping back for attention no matter how much time and energy I give them.   This list can suck the life out of your day if you let it.   So what to do?

Simple: relegate these tasks to a part of the brain that has the stamina to endure regular obligation without whining or fretting.  Begin to make peace with the fact that this list will never end.  A tiny visual trick can help the mind make this adjustment, and thus become more easeful.  And an easeful mind is sure to be a more creative mind.

I do this by placing this list in a side bar on my to-do page. Yes, it’s always there, but now the list is on the periphery of my other, more important tasks (revise essay for Insight into Higher Education; create prompt for Writer’s Studio; create copy for website, etc.).  I try to efficiently work the Sisyphus items into my days, but I don’t let them loom large in my head-space the way I used to.  When I make one long list of things I have to do and “go to the grocery” store is listed right under “write a short story,” my brain simply can’t cope with that.  Such a juxtaposition contributes to confusion about how best to use my creative energy.

Once the Sisyphus List is side-barred, space opens up for me to see the important projects of the day.  If I have to revise a blog post that has been requested for publication, that’s an important task.  Much more important than getting the laundry done.  But if I put them right next to each other on my to-do list, I swear, in some odd way, my brain begins giving “do laundry” the same amount of importance (and mental energy) as it gives to “revise blog post.”  Hmmmm.  That’s not good, is it?

So the side bar becomes a holding pin for those pesky little things that don’t take much brainpower to complete, but do take time and energy.  And once they are removed from my Big List (which is blocked out in categories on my to-do page), I can see the tasks I want to devote my peak creative hours to.  My creative energy is high in the morning.  I wake early and write and work on projects, read and do research, and always a meditation.  So I refrain from doing laundry or organizing file folders during these hours.  Morning hours are my sacred time and space to do my creative work.  You will never catch me cleaning the kitchen floor at 8:00 a.m.  Come by at 5:30 p.m. to catch that scene.   I’ll bet Sisyphus himself will be lurking in a corner, nodding his head in approval of my cleaning technique.

How about you?  What strategies do you have for organizing your days to serve your best creative self?  I’d love to hear them.  And, if you want help with organizing your own life-tasks to make more room for the real work you are on this earth to do, check out  “The Mind Rooms Guide for Creative Productivity” from my writing coach, Jeffrey Davis.  It will change the way you think about time, space, and energy.

So try the Sisyphus List, and see if it helps you Create LifeArt!

Photo credit:  Jes via Compfight

3 thoughts on “The Sisyphus List

  1. Janie Parsons


    Love this idea, and will be thinking of a way it can work for me and the times my
    energy is highest! You are so right, the mundane to-do list stifles my creative side, sometimes to the point I don’t accomplish anything creative for the whole dayl. I hate when that happens.

    Did you see the email I sent you last night—Dog Shaming? It is the best one I’ve had in a long long time. Let me know if you didn’t get it.



    PS-Just hanging on by a thread here, waiting for Spring!

  2. Charlotte

    Lovely post, Lezlie! The topic of to-dos (and getting them to-done) is endlessly fascinating to me. And perhaps too often I’ve felt completely beaten down by the realization that all of life is a process of reparations–I can absolutely never catch up with all of the minutia that contribute to creating the kind of clean, focused life I want to lead.

    I use the fantastic app Remember The Milk to manage my to-dos, and it allows me to set tasks like these to automatically recur, set to a low priority, and with a tag that groups them together (heretofore I’ve used “smallstuff,” but that will be changing to “sisyphus” posthaste).

    And when push comes to shove on the Sisyphus tasks, I am always soothed by this koan:

    A monk told Joshu, “I have just entered the monastery. Please teach me.”
    Joshu asked, “Have you eaten your rice porridge?”
    The monk replied, “I have eaten.”
    Joshu said, “Then you had better wash your bowl.”
    At that moment the monk was enlightened.

    When I get overwhelmed I take a few deep breaths, square my shoulders, and think gently: “You had better wash your bowl.”

    1. Rhonda

      This post describes the last days I’ve had. And it has been so frustrating because my to do list is comprised of other people’s clutter invading my list. I finally went and purchased a dry erase board and charted what I could stand to not ever do until I could get to it, and then those things that had a real deadline, like washing pots else they create a putrid stench in my house, and I determined my time is my time, and no, I won’t answer the phone or work on business, or even glance at Facebook. I haven’t been entirely successful yet, but today I declared I’m going to be my own hero. If that means I accomplish one thing from my creative section and then another like helping my daughter trace her name, then I am proud and deserve to show off just a bit in my own mirror. Thanks for the wonderful read. :)

Comments are closed.