Saturday, June 27, 2020

To be or to do; That is the question                                                                                               

Author:  Steven Greisdorf  

I believe there are two types of people in the world: those who keep to-do lists and those who don’t. Which one are you?

I am very much a ‘to-do list’ person. I am also an old-school to-do list person. I write down my to-do list on a piece of paper. When I finish a task, I draw a line through it. Sometimes, if I finish a task that wasn’t on my to-do list, I’ll write it down just so I can cross it off. I relish in the sense of accomplishment. I have tried to move to an electronic to-do list, but I find the system for marking a task complete doesn’t give me the same sense of satisfaction, so for the time being, I’ll stick with my paper list.

What is on my to-do list? It may bear some resemblance to yours: Typically, household chores, tasks associated with groups with which I am involved, bills to be paid, people I need to reach out to, or projects (like paying my taxes or writing a doctoral dissertation). Items will typically make it onto my to-do list when they arise; others will be added because of quiet times.

Why do I make a to do list? Well, for one: at any one time, there are lots of things that I want or need to do, and I can’t remember them all. Second, I like to see all the things I want to do in one place so I can prioritize them. Third, I like to see which tasks are going to take longer and which can be accomplished quickly. Finally, as I’ve said, I like the feeling that comes when I finish a task and can cross it off. All these things play well into my task-oriented personality.

What I don’t have is a ‘to-be list’.

Before I talk about a to-be list, let me just remind you that we are human beings, not human doings. And yet, when we begin a conversation with someone we are meeting for the first time, one of the first things we ask is ‘what do you do,’ as though that will tell us everything we need to know about a person. I’m a teacher. I’m a doctor. I’m a politician. I’m a banker. I’m an athlete. OK - great. But are you honest? Are you kind? Are you considerate? Are you patient? Are you faithful? Are you trustworthy?

In the New Testament, we are told that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. If you are wondering what sorts of things might be on a to-be list, this might be a good place to start.

Please don’t misunderstand me. A ‘to-be’ is not the same as a ‘to-do’. You can cross things off a to-do list; you never cross off a ‘to-be’. These activities are life skills. They show up in our interactions with others. They are qualities that are in constant need of refinement. And, if I can be so bold, unless priority is given to your ‘to-be’ items, it doesn’t matter how many of your to-dos you complete. You will likely find yourself empty.

To put it frankly, when I die, would I like people to say of me that ‘he accomplished a lot of tasks’? That doesn’t sound very satisfying.

There is just one more thing about ‘to-do’ and ‘to-be’. I tend to keep my to-do list to myself. They are things that I need to do. I don’t burden my wife or kids or friends with my to-do list. In so doing, I remove from the process any form of accountability. Whether or not I get to something on my list is totally on me. What does this mean? It means that several things have been on my to-do list for a very long time, including work on my doctoral dissertation and a couple of house chores. Sharing my list and asking someone to hold me accountable would be a huge personal step and may even help me cross some things off, which as I’ve said would bring me joy. It would also be helpful in building relationships, which would balance out the task-oriented side of myself.

The same things could be said of my to-be list. For the last two months, our family of four has been home together. By and large, this has been very special time and I’ve treasured it, especially as my children are getting older. That being said, I’ve needed to focus more intentionally on three things on my to-be list: patience, kindness, and letting go of expectations. At this point, I haven’t shared this with them, but I know I need to work on them. What would happen if I did share them. They might hold me accountable. Wouldn’t this be a good thing?

'We need to think not of man’s plan, not of this or that nation’s plan, but of God’s plan. Again, we face a time of crisis – crisis that teaches men that man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.'  

Frank Buchman, 28 August 1939 - Remaking the World  


Steven Greisdorf first met Initiatives of Change in 1992. He participated in the Caux Scholars Program in 1993 and helped coordinate the business conferences in Caux between 2002-2005. Steven has been professionally involved in the government, non-profit and education sectors, focusing on finance, operations, technology, and human resources. Steven lives with his wife, Karen, and two daughters outside of Boston, Massachusetts in the United States.