Curing Your Sense of Futility

>> Friday

HOW MANY TIMES have you stayed busy all day only to feel at the end of the day that you really accomplished nothing? Do you know what I'm talking about? Does it ever feel like your actions are futile? Do you ever think, "All that work, all day long, and it feels like I didn't do anything worthwhile?"

It's not very good for your mood.

But how can this possible? I wonder if a hunter-gatherer ever felt that way? Probably not. At the end of the day, he's got a pile of nuts or a dead deer to show for the day's work. Does a bricklayer ever feel like her actions are futile? I doubt it. When she started the day, the wall was only two feet high. By the end of the day, it is eight feet high.

What I'm driving at here is that the problem is not you. It's the tasks. The modern world is full of invisible, hard-to-remember activities, like banking online. And these activities are not in any way futile or unimportant. They can be very important. But they aren't visible. Once you finish your banking task, you close your computer, and what happens? Your desk, your world, looks exactly as it did before you started, as if nothing happened.

I've discovered a simple solution for this sense of futility: Make a list of what you do as soon as you finish it. It's like making a to-do list backwards.

As soon as you finish your banking, for example, write on a piece of paper, "did the banking." Maybe even put a check mark next to it. Do the dishes, then write it down and check mark it. Do that throughout the day, and then before you go to bed, read your list.

What will happen if you do this? It produces three very helpful results:

1. You will no longer feel your actions are futile. You won't be demoralized by the sense that you're spinning your wheels and getting nowhere.

2. It's motivating. When you see that you are, in fact, getting things done, and when you see that many of those things are important to you and move you toward your goals in life, you're motivated to do more.

3. You will find out how you spend your time. This can lead to an improvement in the way you use your time, without even really trying. At the end of the day you'll look at your list. Sometimes you'll see that many of the things you've done were not very important. You haven't really noticed that before because those activities have also been invisible (what is visibly different after two hours of watching television?)

Make a "done list" every day, adding to it every time you complete even the smallest task, and at the end of the day, read it over. It will take very little of your time, but it will go a long way toward counteracting the futility-inducing demoralization of modern life.


Fred Miller 7:42 AM  

Extreeeeeemely important. Make that list.

My basic meditation includes making a mental list the same way. It's not just accomplishments. It's also a review of things that I did better today than yesterday.

One of my exes has started coming to me. Kinky, I know. She is a secretary and works in an office full of architects and lawyers. She is in her mid-fifties and feels inferior to all these young professionals. I gave her a recording of my basic meditation and began doing a review with her a couple times a week over the phone. She picked it up. Now she calls me and tells me about how she handled such and such a situation. She feels more accomplished and equal.


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