Every woman has a “Should Do” list. Maybe it just exists in your head, maybe it’s scribbled on post-it notes or in the margins of your diary, maybe you’ve actually gone that extra step and tried scheduling tasks into your iCal.
Your Should Do list isn’t your everyday To-Do list. Oh no. That relatively benign bit of crazy is mostly harmless and includes things like; “fax health insurance rebate, figure out how to send said fax in the absence of a fax machine (because it’s 2016, Bupa!!), the cat litter situation is getting dangerous, call Mum because it’s been a week and you’re a terrible daughter, Google the ending of Road to Perdition.”
By contrast, your Should Do (or perhaps a better name is your “perfection” list), is that little mental register of all the things you know you should be doing every day, but because you’re an inadequate failure of a human being, you just can’t quite get round to them.
I’m absolutely positive it’s ten times worse for women with children, but since I am child-free those of you who actually have tiny humans can chime in with the million and one extra things you feel like you need to do to be perfect.
Let me demonstrate with the list I wrote earlier:
Oh, yeah, I used a ruler and drew up an actual table. I was not mucking around. Each item I added to the list was accompanied by a little mental nod acknowledging the wisdom of it. This list includes such gems as “Meditate: Because Oprah said so” and “Read finance updates: or else you’ll die POOR!” Pretty sound advice actually.
Then I tallied up the hours I’d need.
Twelve hours. Twelve goddam hours on top of the amount of time I need to go to work, sleep and eat food.
It’s ok, I thought, there’s heaps I can double up! Like doing squats while I watch the news and I’m pretty sure it’s possible to meditate while running, right?!”
I spent a solid half hour staring at the list, subtracting minutes here and there, trying to make it work, trying to make it all fit.
Ok so what if I bring my sleep down to five hours? No. My job requires me to keep my eyes open during the day. Okay, okay. Let’s take away the make-up time. That saves 20 minutes. Yeah. Because it’s 2016 and I’m not subscribing to this patriarchal bull anymore. Except, well, I like looking pretty. No more news watching then! If something horrible happens, I’m pretty sure I’ll hear about it. That saves me an hour, which brings me down to 27 hours and 45 minutes I need in the day to do everything on this list as well as sleep, eat, work and go to the toilet. Gaah! This is IMPOSSIBLE!”
That’s when it finally dawned on me.
It is literally impossible to fit all the things I want and need to do each day to be perfect. Even if I sacrifice all my leisure time. Even if I never procrastinate and focus on doing each task quickly with laser focus. Even if I crap my pants and don’t take the five minutes to go to the toilet.
Sure, we know in theory that it’s bad to hold ourselves to impossible. We think we’re better than that because we’re smart women, reading smart online publications like Mamamia and speaking in (mostly) full sentences, working in jobs, raising well-adjusted kids and paying taxes.
Yet we all think we’re the exception and the rule is not so much a rule as it is a fundamental law of the universe:
If the tasks on your lists – be they “Should Do” or ” To Do” – exceed the number of hours in a day, your list is impossible and no one, not even Hillary Clinton, can do it.
Some items I actually do manage to do most days, like the 5km run and playing with the cat (her name is Winifred and she’s adorable). Some are just downright wishful thinking. When was the last time the sewing machine came out on a weekday? Or I actually read the Financial Times?
The point is, all of us are carrying out a list of all the things we should be doing to be perfect. The guilt of not being capable of holding ourselves to that perfect ideal is killing us.
Think you’re just a dumb failure who should be able to fit the impossible in? Try this exercise:
- Write down a list of the things you need to do every day to feel “perfect” – for those of you who think you’re more emotionally mature than that, let’s substitute “perfect” for “fulfilled” or “accomplished” – whatever your Insta buzzword of choice is.
- Attach a conservative estimate of time it takes to complete that task on its own.
- Add up the times then have a minor heart attack at how many hours in the day you think you need.
- Then write a list of all the things you absolutely have to do, like sleep, go to work, be at work, come home from work, make dinner, go to the toilet etc.
- Add a time estimate of how much time you spend on those things.
- Now, add the two lists together.
- Freak out at how many hours in a day you need to be perfect.
- Tweak hours here and there (eg. “I don’t really need 7 hours of sleep, I can cope with 6 and that extra hour will let me fit in that Crossfit sesh”)
Can you fit it all in 24 hours?
No, seriously. Can you? Because I’m dying to know how.
Isabella Baldwin is a country girl living life in the big city. When she's not working in her obscure government job that she has a really hard time explaining to people, she's writing screenplays that will probably never get made. She enjoys introducing herself to people's dogs and completely ignoring their owners.
If you still feel like you're doing too much, try the One Minute Rule for organisation - it could change your life.