Insanity and the March Rebellion

March 05, 2018

Photo courtesy Ryan McQuire,

You’ve probably heard this definition of insanity before: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Well, call me insane.

For more than a year, I’ve been creating monthly, quarterly, and yearly plans, setting goals for each month, religiously writing down and crossing off tasks and to-dos in an effort to build my freelance writing business, strengthen my health, maintain our home, keep in better touch with my friends and family, improve my horsemanship, sketch more, and so on. I want to experience all the simple pleasures and everyday adventures I can—I don’t want to waste any precious time, or look back and wonder what I did with my life. My lists usually help me stay focused and remind me that I have a choice about how I spend my time.

Until they don’t.

Until I reach overload, and realize I’m moving many of the same items from list to list, week to week, month to month, without doing them. Expecting that “this month it will be different.” (See, insanity.) Even the ones I was nailing were beginning to bug me.

Danielle LaPorte’s words in White Hot Truth sounded eerily applicable: “Contemporary women revere their [To-Do] lists like Moses loved his stone tablets. They are directions to the Promised Land. The thrill of crossing something off: check, check, and check. Mmmmm, feels so good. So good that you might write stuff down that you’ve already done just so you can cross it off (yep, you got it bad). Like any addiction, the to-do list is destined to lose its thrill when it rules us….

“My list started feeling like a row of soldiers shouting at me…. Once I started paying attention, that background noise became awfully loud. Its refrain, on repeat: I sort of suck because I should…” 

Well then.

So last week when I hauled out my master list for the year, my goals workbook, February to-do list, and prepared to write out March’s list of goals I hit a brick wall.

Nope. I can’t do it this way anymore, at least for now. I’m sick of copying the same-old, same-old goals and tasks from month to month. Even the ones that consistently get done every month. It’s only March and I already feel burdened and rebellious. I do not want to feel burdened and rebellious. I write about happiness, fercryinoutloud.

The Rebellion caused me to look at my proposed goals and decide 1) whether I still wanted to do them, and 2) whether I could realistically do them this month given the other responsibilities on my plate (I’m looking at you, Luna). I hate admitting this, but I do not have the physical or mental energy to do the number of things I want to do at any one time. And I can’t always be saying no to the simple pleasures and everyday adventures that give me joy and help me relax in favor of working or “achieving.”

I sat for a few moments reflecting on which of these many (many) items were truly important for me to accomplish (and do well) in the next four weeks. Which ones would I enjoy most—whether because the thing itself was enjoyable or having it checked off the list would make me feel especially relieved and happy.

Instead of copying all of February’s goals to a new file, renaming it, and removing the items that got checked off in February that don’t need to be repeated in March, I started fresh with a blank piece of paper and wrote down just a few things I’d like to do in March. The writing jobs I’m committed to. Puppy obedience classes. Planning and preparing for an April trip to California to see my parents and my friend Kerri. My list was shorter, but more meaningful to me.

I don’t know what March is going to bring. Maybe I won’t even accomplish what’s on my shorter list. But at least for now, I don’t feel quite as insane.

How do you cope when you feel overwhelmed by everything you’d like to do?

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  1. Dear Kathy I have been there...really had it bad because I was truly addicted to my lists. Because of life being so out of control these past two years - have stopped making lists. I have routines I keep to because I have done them for so long but my lists consist now of the things I do daily - which takes away pressure but gives me a lift of spirits. :)!!

    1. Debbie--You may be on to something. Clearly, I'm currently making myself crazy with a little too much planning and goal-setting!

  2. LOL, Kathy. I have been there, especially the 'add to the list so I can mark it off!' Crazy. Like I am going to be graded on my lists!

    I like your idea about only choosing what you would enjoy doing or what you would be relieved to get off your plate. A good measuring stick! As life goes on, it seems that simple daily maintenance takes up so much time, that the To Do list needs to be shorter and the To Enjoy list needs to be longer.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post.

    1. You're welcome, Belle. We seem to have a lot in common besides books. I certainly hear you on the daily maintenance taking up so much time. It seems I look up and it's 2:30 in the afternoon.

      Hope your To-Do List is short and your To Enjoy list is long!

  3. My flameout happened in early February. For a long list of reasons, I walked away from goals, planners and lists. In hindsight, it was a stupid thing to do, but it is what it is. It has caused me a great deal of grief and three weeks of insane scrambling to get everything done and meet all my deadlines on various projects. Here's the funny (odd) thing...I can't say I truly regret it.

    I'm finding that stepping away has made me aware of a number of things: 1) the system is not serving me well; 2) there is more to life than being a hamster on a wheel; and 3) I need, not just want, but need more enjoyment/laughter/happiness in my day.

    Still looking for the way forward.

    1. Apparently, Planner Rebellion is a Thing. I'm in complete agreement with the things you've become aware of. That hamster wheel thing really gets to me.

      I hope you find the way forward soon...and that you'll share it with me, or at least your version of "it", when you do. I'll do the same.

  4. Yeah, I guess I'm one of the addicted, though I don't set goals for the year. Day by Day, week by week, and even that needs to be re-evaluated...I am doing better with my new Planner system, using some pretty colored bullet dots now and categorizing, than without...Your tip about bullet planning helped me, I've enjoyed looking at different people's systems online.
    Good for you, realizing what was happening and being able to go with the flow!

    1. Glad to hear you're finding a more balanced way, Rita. It is fun to see other people's systems, and sometimes it inspires change, too.

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  6. Very thought provoking post for me. I like the idea of a more focused list for the specific month at hand - what can I realistically expect to do this month. But, I'd also like a separate (overflow) list of things for future.... just a data dump of my head so I don't forget what I wanted to do.

  7. Claire--That "brain dumping" is important for my sanity, too! My problem is I consistently think I can do more than I can do, and that leads to frustration. Still working on the "realistically expect" part!