Re-Do on the To-Do List

Friday, October 01, 2004
This post originally appeared on my Radio Userland blog. I love to reread them, they seem just as ‘fresh’ and useful as the day I wrote them!

(5 minute read)

I start most mornings with my schedule book (a student composition book with daily to-do list) and my journal. I try to start with my journal, because as I write, the process helps me sort through the to-do’s and establish real priority.

A to-do list is great for making sure you accomplish what you set out to do in a day, but they have a few drawbacks. First, it gets cumbersome to constantly move unfinished tasks to the next day. It doesn’t allow you to easily set daily goals vs. weekly, or even longer-term goals. Everything seems to have the same urgency. “E-mail Tiffany about wings” seems as crucial as “mail past-due insurance premium.” Also, no matter how much you accomplish, there’s always something you didn’t get to. So you never feel you really “finished.” And then there’s the feeling that tomorrow, it starts all over again.

This morning I wondered if I instead I could view the day as an opportunity to fill certain “cups” of my life that need care and attention.

One cup, “family”, was easy. Jon and I had had a great morning. So I needed to make sure I spent time with my kids later after school. “Make chili with Doug and Robin” (they love to help me cook) and “movie night!” went at the top of my list. (You know you need to cook more often when you make a pot of soup one weekend and both your teenage children THANK you profusely….how embarassing!)

Under “friends”, I made a note to e-mail my friend Tiffany to see if she could meet for wings and a beer, our weekly Friday ritual. And to call another friend I hadn’t seen in a few weeks, to see if we could get together.

“Professional” cup next. “Clear a space so I can do card project for Katherine’s book”.

I stopped and looked at that entry. “Clean the studio!!!” has been on my to-do list for weeks. (see blog for 9/30)

Breaking down “Clean the studio!” into a smaller step (“Clear a table”) was a good strategy. But I needed something else today. Life’s been overwhelming lately, and I just wondered if there was another way to look at all this.

I remembered the “Handmade, High Tech” conference (see blog CRAFT IN THE DIGITAL AGE entry in April 2004.) One of the speakers, Lynn Martin Graton, Traditional Arts Coordinator for the NH State Council on the Arts, talked about how differences in how language is used can reveal fundamental differences in culture.

She said, “If I want to say, ‘Warp the loom’ in Japanese, it actually translates to something like, ‘In order for the cloth to be woven, the loom will be warped.’ It’s a totally different way of viewing the action needed and the person who acts. The loom has its own importance, its own part to play. It’s not just about YOU, the artist.” (paraphrased greatly)


If I say “Clean my studio”, it’s a huge task that lies on me and me alone. I must accept total responsibility for doing that. There may be very American, can-do solutions: I can suck it up and do it myself. I can get friends to help (barn-raising!) I can hire someone else to do it, putting a value on my time and/or deciding how I want to spend my time. And my favorite, ‘you can accomplish anything–even eating an elephant–by taking many small bites one at a time.’ It’s how I’ve accomplished everything I have in the last five years, breaking every monumental task down into more manageable little steps.

But what if we’re in a place where even these strategies just seem too overwhelming?

What if we could speak Japanese sometimes? What if we could tap into an even softer, Zen, wholistic, mindful approach occasionally?

What if I recognize that, if I do my part, then the creative “thing” will do its part? What if I could trust that process?

I rewrote the task: “If the cards are to be made, a space must be cleared.”

It’s still the same action resulting in the same conclusion, but the perspective is different.

It’s still up to me to take the action that makes it happen. That table won’t clear itself! (Oh, I WISH!!) But now I have a partner in the process, so to speak.

I started with the analogy of a baby, but that got too labored (ouch! Sorry…) But like a baby, certain things have to happen in order for the baby to appear. Once started, the baby pretty much develops and grows on its own schedule, and appears in its own good time. But certain things have to happen, and a place has to be made.

Martha Graham’s famous quote, in part, acknowledges this: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost.”

Blocking the creative act can be as simple as not making a place for it. The creative process is a dance between you (a conduit and a source of action), and a partner (the creative force that needs to appear). The result, whether its a card project, a song, a poem, a garden, a painting or a child, comes from that dance.

Once that creative thing is in the world, it takes on a life of its own. It can be seen and experienced by others in their own unique way. Some people will be inspired by it, some will be angered. Some will be moved to tears and others will wonder what all the fuss was about. That’s why the rest of the quote goes on to say it is not the artist’s place to judge it, just to make sure it gets out into the world.

So take another look at that to-do list. Look at the ways you may have unconsciously taken on more than you need to handle with your art. Start with the small but critical step of making room for it, literally and figuratively. Then step back and see what happens!

I’m off to clear a table now.

Author: Luann Udell

I find it just as important to write about my art as to make it. I am fascinated by stories. You can tell when people are speaking their truth--their eyes light up, their voices become strong, their entire body posture becomes powerful and upright. I love it when people get to this place in their work, their relationships, their art. As I work from this powerful place in MY heart, I share this process with others--so they have a strong place to stand, too. Because the world needs our beautiful art. All of it we can make, as fast as we can! Whether it's a bowl, a painting, a song, a garden, a story, if it makes our world a better place, we need to do everything in our power to get it out there.

7 thoughts on “Re-Do on the To-Do List”

  1. One thing that really helps me with my to do lists is keeping a wide red highlighter at hand and SLASHING through things accomplished. All of those red lines encourage me, make me feel like a good person, and motivate me to get more red lines. If I am in a “low” state, I put small things on that list. The completed tasks, with their red slashes, build me back up to get bigger things done.
    And as for making room for art, I have a broad definition of art, one that honors all of the creativity in my life. Cooking is art. Gardening. Writing beautiful posts, with care to get the grammar and punctuation right. Writing haiku. Taking and photo processing photos of special moments. Taking photo series according to a theme (micropuddles or portraits of a concrete-encrusted shovel with a broken handle that I found, in different places). Painting Enso, zen circles. Quiltmaking. Rearranging my workspace to make it more functional, an ongoing creative process. Ikebana, Japanese flower arrangements.Making a series of fun but seriously effective masks for the pandemic. Mending clothing beautifully, whether invisably, or in a wacky way. Polymer clay work, including making polymer Happy Rocks, stamped Happy Rock, to leave around the community. And making jewelry for my shop.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I had another thought about Luann’s fine post. Notice that she does her “paperwork” in the morning. My day job is psychiatrist/psychotherapist, and I deal with a lot of folks who struggle to get “everything done.” I always get them to notice what time of day they have the most energy and to do the hard things during those hours. So I throw that out there in case it might help someone “get their list done.” If I don’t do my exercise first thing in the morning, it is not happening….

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Inspirational as always! I have also started a to-do list in a compo book … it’s in a pretty cloth cover, and yeah a lot of items get rolled forward. I like crossing things off, and I’ve added relaxation/cheer by often using the left-side pages for projects — from Thanksgiving planning to Magic:the Gathering card lists, or garden ideas.

    But I fell off the daily diary wagon ages ago, around when the whole marriage/kids thing happened, and I have just not been able to get back on, despite purchasing nice journals, trying different spaces and routines etc. I’ll have to keep trying.

    I had a question to send you, anyway, and will have to look up contact info. You know how we creative people are about finding the latest contact info! lol

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I resist ‘pretty journals’ because I don’t want to mess them up! I learned that the hard way, from an expensive, ‘real’ planner I invested in years ago. It was ‘too nice’ to mess up. I found it years later (out of date because it was date-oriented) and now use it as a scrapbook of ideas. (My non-virutal Pinterest!) OTOH, I found some very affordable ones at TJ Maxx that hold about 4-5 months’ worth of ‘input’, and they have a spiral binding so they take up less space when I’m referring to them. Maybe this will help you get your to-do/journal mojo going: I also keep track of some precious memories in them. Last year, I came across some really old ones, where I’d recorded the funny things my kids said when they were little. It was gob-smacking how incredible it was to reread them! So these aren’t just ‘to-do’ list-keepers. They hold all kind of mementos over the years. Every time I go back through one, it brings back so many memories! Good and bad, obstacles and victories, insights and recognition. OH, and you can reach me at or message me on FB. I’ll be here! :^)

      Liked by 1 person

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