Can Do – Must Do

Mike McGough
January 2018

He sat at his desk looking tired and haggard. He was exhausted, and it was 9:30 on a Tuesday morning. A co-worker noticed him and asked if he had had a bad night. He replied that it was not a bad night but a bad month or maybe a bad year. “I can’t seem to get ahead,” he said. “No matter what I do, I’m always behind. I feel like I’m chasing myself from day to day always with more to do than time to do it. There’s just no catching up. The more I do, the more there is to do.”

“Been there and felt like that myself,” the older co-worker said. “And I got tired of feeling that way so I did something about it.” She explained how uncomfortable she was when things got like that for her. She said that for years she had assumed that that was just the way life was, at least in the lane in which she was traveling. She assumed that everyone felt that way, so she had resigned herself to accept it. She said, “Then, I took a closer look at the clutter I was putting in my life and I made a rather simple change. It’s made a world of difference for me.”

“Okay, what did you do; I’m open for suggestions,” the haggard man asked?

She explained that she came to the realization that her priorities were not in line with the time, energy and abilities that she had. “Everyone has only so much time, energy, and talent, and I was always stressing mine to the max. I always planned more than I could possibly finish, then I would beat myself up when I didn’t get everything done. It was a vicious cycle for me, and I decided to break it once and for all. Oh, now and again I fall back into my old habit, but for the most part, I have conquered this, and it really works for me.”

Knowing that she had his attention, she went on to explain that she began by identifying chores in her life as either can do or must do tasks. She said the must do tasks get priority, but she always makes sure that she includes a few can do tasks as well. The can do tasks are things she wants to do; they do not have to be done. She has not agreed to do them, they are not a responsibility she must fulfill, and if she does not do them, no one suffers. She said giving some attention to both types of tasks creates a sense of balance for her. “I know that there will always be certain things that I must do, and I hope there will always be certain things that I can or want to do. A balance is essential.”

She then explained to her very attentive co-worker that she had found that most of the clutter in her life is clutter that she puts there. She explained that a can do task, something that she wants to do, such as putting in a new flowerbed, should not become a source of pressure or stress. If it does it has become a must do even though it really isn’t. She said, “The pressure and the frustration, and the resulting anxiety and exhaustion I was feeling were often self-imposed. Once I recognized that simple truth, I began to lighten up on myself. The results were and continue to be remarkable.”

She then told him that this is not something that he is going to do overnight. “Instead,” she explained, “this is a life process that you will become comfortable with over time. It has to do with changing the way you think about the things that you must and can do in life, and understanding that there is a real difference.”

A lot of people tend to unnecessarily crowd and clutter their lives. They do it for a number of reasons. Pride, greed, habit, envy, competition, money, power, and reputation are just a few. To be sure, everyone’s life is going to have a certain number of must do items in it, and everyone’s life should also include some can do or want to do items. Coming to grips with the difference and controlling, at least as much as you can, the number of each is important. It becomes a way to achieve clutter control. By so doing you can increase your personal power potential, relax the pace in your life, and be better prepared to make the most of your time. In the process you’ll also significantly reduce the blur and frustration the next time you look at your TO-DO list.