In our regular mental health and wellbeing column this time, a few thoughts on to-do lists, and finding space for self care.

Hello and a very warm welcome to our bit on the site where we talk about mental health and wellbeing. If you’ve not read one of these pieces before, it’s a place where we chat about things that may be affecting you, us, or people around us. Simple rules: not every article we run is going to be of use to everyone, but hopefully across this series, there’s something that’s of use to you. And also, comments are very welcome.

This week, some thoughts on unreasonable targets.

I’m not sure how relatable this is, but the to-do list I tend to set myself never seems to find any kind of equilibrium. It’s either worryingly sparse or packed to the rafters, and there rarely seems to be much in between. There’s a feeling – and I do wonder if it’s conditioned into lots of us – that if we’re not busy, we’re not doing something right. That we should have an aching list of things to do, and that being able to relax and enjoy the downtime isn’t something that many of us are good at.

The older me has become wiser to this, even if I’m rubbish at putting it into practice. The thing about an impossible to-do list, I’ve learned, is that it’s impossible for a reason. Appreciating sometimes we might big up how difficult things are to do, there’s still a moment where it’s not feasible to either tackle a list by yourself, or tackle it in the timescale you’ve been afforded. Almost as if we’re set up for failure, by others or by ourselves.

Thing is, oftentimes I’ve learned that the things on that list, if they’re not achieved on a given day? It’s rarely the end of the world. That as long as people know what’s going on, and people are communicated with, there’s usually a plan B somewhere.

I have learned, as many have before, that it’s not worth doing yourself damage to meet unreasonable goals. Many times in this series I’ve penned sentences that are easier to write down than put into action. But I also believe that pushing yourself occasionally when there’s genuinely something pressing is one thing. When it becomes the norm, it’s another. And also, when it becomes the norm – again, personal experience – people take it for granted, and ultimately don’t appreciate you may have gone the extra mile. I was working stupid hours at one job I did, and it made not a jot of different in the end. That put a few things in perspective.

Because I think downtime is crucial, and I also think that have a realistic expectation of how much you can do is another. Sure, stretch yourself. See if you can do the metaphorical 105% some days – to go all Apprentice for a minute – but there’s also nothing wrong with doing a reasonable day’s amount of things in, well, a day.

Find a norm that works for you, don’t be afraid when the list empties a bit, and make sure that when it looks like there’s an enormous amount to do and not enough time to do it, you find space for self-care, rest and being generally kind to yourself.

Thanks, as always, for reading: this column will return next Wednesday. Stay safe and well.

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