There’s always going to be more to do (and why that’s a good thing)

Mar 13, 2023

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Having a lot on your to do list can be either overwhelming or can be viewed as a positive circumstance. On the overloaded side, we can have this belief that if only we worked harder, faster, more efficiently… we’d somehow get to that elusive empty list, that blissful “Inbox 0”.

Unfortunately, to believe that can happen in every aspect is a fallacy and thus sets us up for stress. So instead, what if we were to adjust how we view our endless to do list? What if we can embrace that there’s always going to be more to do… and absorb positive energy from it actually being a good thing? Let’s explore this idea together.

“It doesn’t allow me to enjoy the process of accomplishing… to enjoy the moment to moment experience that is my life… And, in fact, it feels like it’s a race to me that I am sprinting. And sprints are not designed to be sustained.” – Dr. Sara Dill

What You’ll Learn 

  • Stressful mental construct
  • Missing the joy of the process
  • Feeling like a sprint
  • Finding a sustainable pace
  • Pursuing that feeling now

Contact Info and Recommended Resources

Podcast Episodes that pair well with this one:

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I'm Dr. Sarah Dill, and this is the Stress Less Physician Podcast, episode number 57.
Welcome to the Stress Less Physician Podcast. I'm your host, Dr. Sarah Dill, MD. Using my unique combination of coaching and mindfulness tools, I will teach you practical ways to reduce your stress level, feel happier at work, and create a better balance between your medical career and personal life. If you are a busy practicing physician who wants to design a life and medical career that feel good to you, you are in the right place.
Hey, everyone. Welcome back to the podcast. Happy Monday. It is windy here. It's been windy for a while. And I have to say that, although I know that weather is just a circumstance - it's just a neutral fact. I am not a lover of wind, although my dad is a sailor, and so of course he must love wind. So, that is a long way of saying that I have a wind chime that I can't get to right now and it is windy. So I apologize if you hear it in the background. And I apologize to Daniel, my podcast editor too, for making your job harder this week.
But anyway, I'm so happy to be here. I have been thinking about lots of different topics that I want to talk about, which is exciting. I like to have some creative moments and I really think that's because I took a little break for the last few days. I just didn't give myself a lot to do, which is what I wanted to talk about today, which is the subject of why there's always going to be more to do, specifically on your to-do list, if you are a maker of to-do lists, or even on your mental to-do list, and why that's a good thing. And how I would use that fact to your benefit.
And so I coach a lot of physicians on just always the next thing and overwhelm and stress about their to-do list, and about all the things they need to get done, whether that's at work or at home, or with children, or in life or whatever it is, a bucket list of places you wanna see.
I think that there's something about making lists that we humans and we physicians are particularly good at. And I will say, I love checking things off a list. So I don't know about you, but I am one of those people that if I do something, sometimes I'll write it down on my list just so I can check it off that I've done it. So I fully admit that.
But for a lot of people, there's this sense that if you could only work harder, faster, better, be more productive, get through things, there would come a day where your list would be blank, right? Where your inbox would be empty, where your charting would be done. Where everything would be over.
And that's not to say that you can't get to an empty inbox or you can't close out all your charts or anything like that. I am a fan of that. But this idea that there is a day where everything is done is a fallacy, right? There's always something else.
It's like with dishes. I like to do all my dishes at night. I don't like to leave dishes in the sink, but I pretty much know there's gonna be a dish tomorrow. It's not like there's ever a day where the dishes are done and I don't generate more dirty dishes. Same with laundry. Same with life. Life is sometimes a series of problems that we are invited to participate with and solve.
We're great problem solvers. So the idea that there will come a day where your to-dos will be done and your life will be an open book or you won't have anything to do at work, I think is a mental construct that I don't think serves us. Because it seems to cause people to want to rush through things or feel pressure or feel stress.
And since this podcast is about stressing less, if you are someone who stresses about your to-do list and feels like somehow it should get done or be done, this podcast is for you. What would it be like to acknowledge that there's always gonna be something else to do. Could that be a good thing? Why might that be a good thing? How can we use that fact - or what I consider a fact, although it's just a thought I have - to our advantage?
The way I see it, and what I'd like to suggest to you is, if the thought that I need to get everything done, or I should get everything done, or I'm in a hurry to one day, have everything done, be caught up on everything, that tends to create a feeling of anxiety or overwhelm, of hurry, of busyness, of scarcity, right? It feels like not enoughness. It feels like I need to pack it all in.
It doesn't allow me to enjoy the process of accomplishing the things that I wanna accomplish. It doesn't allow me to enjoy the moment to moment experience that is my life, because I'm very focused on that future finish line. And in fact, it feels like it's a race to me, that I am sprint. And sprints are not designed to be sustained for days and months and weeks and years in our lifetime.
How many of us feel like our life is one long sprint? That's how Covid felt to me. Only that was when I thought Covid, in the pandemic and all of that, was gonna go away relatively quickly. I was wrong. I think we all were.
So are you in relationship to the things that you are pursuing and doing with your to-do list, with all those things that you want to accomplish? Are you sprinting? Or does it feel more sustainable? Is it more enjoyable if you could slow down and not feel a sense of hurry or rush to reach that finish line that is just going to keep moving backwards? Because there's always more things to. There's always going to be more to do.
So I like the idea, what if acknowledging that there's always going to be more to do is a good thing? Because it allows us to slow down and to savor what we're doing now without a sense of, "I gotta get this done so I can move on to the next thing and the next thing and the next thing". Can you enjoy the journey? I know that's sort of a trite idea. But a lot of things that are trite are true, or there is good reason to pay attention to them.
How does it feel differently to you if you think about the fact that there's probably always gonna be more things to do, more problems to solve, more patients to see more places to go, more things to do, in a good way. Will that allow you to slow down, to find a pace in your life, in your work, in your day-to-day experience that feels more sustainable? So that rather than sprinting, you are maybe jogging or walking briskly or strolling, however it is that you wanna experience your life.
And one thing I would ask, and this is a good question to always ask yourself when you feel like you're in a hurry to achieve something or do something or to get to a certain place: why does it seem so important to get to a place where you've accomplished everything on your to-do list, where everything is done? What are you gonna be thinking and what are you gonna be feeling in that moment?
I just want you to visualize. Visualize accomplishing every single thing on your to-do list. Everything is done. How are you gonna feel? What are you gonna be thinking that's gonna be creating that feeling, right? Because we're always pursuing a feeling. That's why we want everything we want. Maybe you're gonna feel satisfied. Maybe you're gonna feel accomplished. Maybe you're gonna feel a sense of relief. Those are all going to come from different thoughts.
It might be like, "I've done it. I'm done. I'm caught up". Might be a thought about, "I did it all". Can you live into that now? Can you create that feeling for yourself now? What would you have to believe to create that emotion now, and would that actually fuel you better than whatever you are feeling currently about work or life or your to-do?
If you're currently engaged in a race against time to try to accomplish everything, does that feel good? What if you knew you were never gonna get it all done? At least not tomorrow, right? But over time, you can get what's done. That's important, and it'll all happen in time. Does that feel better? Is that a more comfortable way to live your life, and is it possible that that will actually make you way more productive and focused without the scarcity of not enoughness motivating you?
I am going to keep this brief. I hope that this is useful for you. And I just wanna invite you as always, if you are someone that doesn't really worry about getting everything done and you don't have a problem with that, and it doesn't feel like pressure, that's amazing. But if you're like many of us and you have this sort of fantasy of one day having everything done, spend a little time with that.
Notice the impact that it has on you now in your life. Is that a belief that you wanna keep believing? Is it even true? Is it useful? And so what? Let's say you did get it all done. What does that mean? Don't you think there's gonna be something else that you were gonna discover? Something else that's gonna come up, like new dishes to dirty tomorrow.
What if we weren't all in such a rush to get everything done? What if we slowed down a little bit? What if we made sure that we were enjoying this life that we have day by day and not just racing to the finish line.
All right, love talking with you. Hope this stimulates a little bit of introspection in a good way. And as always, please reach out with any questions, comments, let me know if there's something you want me to talk about.
And if you feel like this is something you could use some help with, I am always available. Feel free to drop me an email at [email protected]. And let me know how I can help. Have a wonderful week. Bye.
If you are a busy practicing physician, ready to start feeling less stressed, enjoy work more, and learn how to create a more balanced and sustainable medical practice and life. Sign up for a consult call with me It would be my privilege and pleasure to work with you.

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