Should that be on your plate?

“Something has to come off my plate.”

I knew exactly what she meant. My friend wasn’t talking about her need to reduce her calorie consumption, she was admitting her need to cut back on her obligations. She didn’t need wiggle room in her jeans, she needed wiggle room in her schedule. We can all use a little wiggle room, because most of us let too much pile up on our plates.

My plate had been overflowing. Beyond overflowing. I knew it was an issue, I just didn’t know what to do about it. I found the answer at a Green Industry Conference, delivered by a dentist from Montana who presented the closing remarks in a seminar for landscape professionals. Crazy, right? I don’t know who decided that a dentist would be best suited as the keynote speaker for a landscaping conference, but I would like to thank them for that decision. It changed my life. Because he introduced the most groundbreaking (pun intended) concept I had ever discovered.

The “Not To-Do List”.

This would become a game-changer for me. Mr. Dentist shared his inspirational message with a group of landscape professionals who owned or managed retail businesses. He spoke of our tendency to wear busyness like badges and reminded us that if we continually found ourselves with more things to do than we had time to do them that we were failing to use proper organizational skills. We were doing business poorly.

“How many of you are list-makers?” he asked. Every hand in the room shot up. “I want you to make one more list,” he challenged our group. “I want you to make a Not-To-Do List, and I want you to learn how to use it.” He had my full attention. I make lists of my lists. I could not get through a day without a list. Mine had grown from little lists on index cards to lists that filled legal-size sheets of paper… with mini-lists written in the margins. I was ready for this list! His challenge went like this:

Write down everything you do. Everything. Ask yourself the following questions about everything you have written.

  1. Is it necessary?
  2. Is it beneficial?
  3. Does it bring you joy?

If you cannot answer “yes” to at least two of those questions, that item must be removed. It’s something that needs to come off your plate.

I took his challenge. Not so much because it involved making another of my beloved lists, but because I was overwhelmed. Wrung out physically, mentally, and emotionally. I knew if I couldn’t get control of the things I had let take control of me, my life would continue to spiral out of control and the end would be ugly.

It took me two years to complete my challenge. It was the most difficult, yet liberating thing I had ever done. I’ve since had the opportunity to speak to groups about this concept. Has it had the same effect on the ones I shared it with as it did on me? I can’t say. But I can tell you that once as I spoke to a group of volunteers I glanced around the room and watched tears being wiped from the exhausted faces of those who had apparently struggled with the same thing I had struggled with for so many years. They had been unable to tell others “No”. They had over-extended themselves and over-committed until they had no wiggle room for themselves.

We all need some wiggle room.

It’s a commandment, really. A commandment to leave some margin for rest.

“You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but on the seventh day you must stop working, even during the seasons of plowing and harvest.

Exodus 34:21, NLT

What needs to come off your plate? What’s keeping you from having any margin in your life for rest? For God? Pray about it. Discover what “good things” need to go so that the “best things” can take priority. It won’t happen overnight and it won’t necessarily be easy. If you’re serious about it, however, it’s worth the time and effort. After all, God wants you to have some wiggle room, too.

Want to learn more about the Not-To-Do List?

Use this worksheet to develop your own and discover how to work through the process.

Not To Do List 

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