What if I did nothing I was supposed to, all day? You know. Allowing myself what I want to do – but not worrying about what I ought to do.

Woman Deep in ThoughtWhat if I set aside my planned tasks, my lists, even my mental agenda – and just let the day unfold?

Isn’t considering my options – one of my options? It’s a radical idea, isn’t it? Well it is in my world, anyway. And probably in yours, too, if you have a job or kids or a household to run. But what if we jumped off the proverbial merry-go-round, and went for a little time non-management? What if we set aside all our theoretical must dos, just for a day?

Must vs should

I have a dentist appointment today. That’s a must do. Not only is it a requirement for my dental health, but it’s a commitment to others. Were I to call and cancel, it causes others to scramble. It disrespects their time, and their professionalism. Besides, I don’t particularly enjoy going to the dentist. It’s hard to steel myself to its necessity in the week prior, yet I feel so much better when I’ve done it. Health maintenance. And the satisfaction of facing what used to be a nearly unmanageable fear. So for me, that’s a must. But what about everything else on my overflowing daily plate?

Making my son’s lunch, as I do every morning. Is it a must? Is it even a should? Couldn’t he make his own lunch at this point?

I really must shower. I’m often so rushed in the morning that I don’t, until later in the day. Or the next day, getting by with brushing my teeth, fluffing my hair, a quick bit of eyeliner and a few drops of Chanel. But I feel better when I shower before the onslaught of musts, shoulds, wants, needs, and everything else that hits as the hours slide into their usual blur. Today, I really must shower. Or is this a should?

And the two page list on the kitchen table, with its items still unchecked?

Tail wagging the dog

I’m not speaking of the tendency to procrastinate (which we all face in some fashion). I’m concerned with the “I need to be less obsessive about always accomplishing something” sort of way. And not just in terms of scribbles across the pages of our daily planners, but the way we speak to ourselves – our inner dialog. Surely, we could replace 3/4 of the must-do items with a should-do, couldn’t we? And then might we tackle the shoulds, and eradicate a significant portion?

Overworked and overtired teenI often feel like I am my own tail, wagging my proverbial dog body. I get so tied up in what I believe I should or must do, I have little left over to “be” – and that seems to eat away at my creativity, my spontaneity, and my big picture judgment. I may be getting a truck load of little things “done,” but am I advancing toward achieving something I genuinely consider important?

Worse – am I setting a bad example for my kids, tackling more than anyone could or should, and becoming the poster parent for Overworked and Overtired Anonymous?

If I let loose on a measure of my need to accomplish – my lists, my shoulds, my imprinted structure by which I measure the value of a day rather than feeling its value – will I actually accomplish more, differently? Will I feel energized, or listless?

Wants vs needs

I consider the issue of wants versus needs frequently. Trying to make sure I’m assessing more accurately – for myself. How easily we confuse desire with true need. Is it overindulgence? Media influences? A sense of entitlement? Or as simple as habit?

Our wants are many; our needs are few. Does any one of us really need a new pair of shoes, the latest car, a bigger house, the change in job title and the perks that go with it? For that matter, do we need our spouses to treat us differently, or want it? I know – that’s another realm, tossing us into manner in which wants bleed into needs in a sort of blended spectrum. Certain wants, left untended, may evolve into needs. That’s certainly the case when it comes to health, and often, healthy relationships.

Distinctions in must vs should

Is it the same principle with musts and shoulds? Do we have far too many of both, without understanding the distinctions or ramifications? Are we so busy recording them in our diaries, our agendas, our electronic calendars, our running lists on scattered post-its and papers, tacked on desks and refrigerators, that we feel naked without our myriad tasks to accomplish?

Worried manOf course, time plays its role. When children are young, the musts are many. When it comes to health, as we age, shoulds become musts. 

In our crowded lives, there are periods of endless and exhausting juggling – parenting, pursuing an education, pouring inordinate amounts of time into a career, caring for a mate or searching for a mate. We are breathlessly scheduled, and utterly dependent on our time management skills, our support systems, not to mention our stamina. Occasionally we come up for air. Occasionally, we realize it’s been years since we last came up for air.

Abandoning the list

So what can be deleted from the list of musts, to be delegated to a family member, or simply let go?

I’m not saying we should abandon our responsibilities, or our means of tracking them. But it seems to take tragedy, personal loss, or serious health scares to shake us into a clearer realization of the essentials. Wouldn’t we be better off if we dug in and insisted on a little “less of more” so we might actually feel more?

I want to make conscious, mindful choices – about my time. My priorities. Shouldn’t that help me pursue what I truly want – and need? Can I cut myself some slack – and not feel guilty?

  • What can you shed to lighten your load?
  • What can you delegate or do less often?
  • What can you re-prioritize so that time is not your enemy?

I’ve always run at 100mph. It’s my nature; I’m a typical Type A.

Only as I’ve grown older – and had to bear the health consequences of my frantic pace – have I realized that something is off. Or, at the very least, that I must constantly challenge my priorities. Take a step back. Assess and re-orchestrate.

So today, I’m calling a moratorium on the lists and time management. I’m setting them aside, and going with the fewest musts that I… must. Shower, school lunch, drive, dentist. And as for the rest?

We’ll see. I’d like to experience whatever arises from time non-management. And revel in being listless.

© D A Wolf



  1. says

    Great read, as usual – this reminds me of the struggle I have with my rigidity to routine and schedule – it is SO hard for me to step away from that and just go with the flow or do something spontaneous. But, I am learning, little steps along the way!

  2. says

    I am so impressed that you read my mind from a thousand – maybe – miles away this morning. And, as I read your writings – which are spot on, I was taken to my breakfast out with the girls today. Yes, it is a guilty pleasure. We only do it during the school year so it is not truly a weekly thing. But, for the first time ever, I saw myself looking at the clock – we were seated in a different location today than usual – as the minutes clicked to a half-hour to an hour to two hours. I love, even today, my time with these women. But today, I kept thinking of all the things I had to do. I hated that I wasn’t there, having fun, the whole time.

  3. says

    Des questions essentielles, BLW. J’aime beaucoup l’idée de temps non-géré. De temps en temps, je me dit que notre valeur personelle dépend trop des buts atteints. Mais moi aussi, je suis un “Type A” …

    • BigLittleWolf says

      @CT – Il me semble que je passe ma vie à courir, et à environs cinquante ans, il faut quand-même quelques heures ici et là sans se presser. Si difficile – au moins, quand je suis aux States. Par contre, en France, je suis plus raisonnable. Go figure. :)

  4. says

    I take occasional “days off” where I just let all my shoulds and schedules go. I’m fortunate to be able to do it, and it is what keeps me sane and able to do all the musts and shoulds the rest of the time. It has also taught me more flexibility on the days I don’t take off.

  5. says

    Hi D (aka Wolfie),
    You say so much, so beautifully, I don’t know where to respond. So thank you … and wow, I’m tired.

    How does type A-ness turn into appreciation of Resting? Of course, one step at a time (go figure). Glad your finding some time today. Glad your showering (“clean mind-clean body-take your pick”), I hate the dentist (poking, probing, possible pain) …

    When do should’s, would’s and could’s turn into wants? A great question. Resting certainly play a critical part (for a few moments or hours or a day or a few days – like spring break). Resting gives you time for the re’s … re-charge, re-view, re-think, re-lax, re-flect, re-spond, etc. Without them constant A-type movement may take you past the destination or on to roads you didn’t want.

    You have re-invigorated me.
    Thank you.
    Have Fun,

  6. says

    I’ve always wanted to wake up and call off the day…cancel all and just do – whatever. I’ve never had the nerve to actually do it. Still, it makes a nice daydream.

  7. says

    With an infant and a toddler, many of my “to dos” are in the must column. (My toddler did offer to go grocery shopping for me this morning – a generous offer, but I don’t trust his driving skills…yet.) But I too am queen of making coulds into musts.

    Take, for instance, this blogging endeavor: for me, it is not paid work; it is, for now at least, a hobby. But in some ways I treat it as a job: I feel guilty when I don’t make my daily rounds and end up staying up past my bedtime to do something that is supposed to be fun.

    Of course, I have no interest in or intention of stopping, but I would love to arrive at an existential place where I don’t MUST the enjoyment out of every activity.

  8. says

    Time non-management is indeed a novel concept these days. One thing I do that helps me manage my daily list is short meditations throughout the day. A minute here, a minute there helps to center me so that I don’t feel so rushed all the time.

    As for lightening the load, I don’t clean my house everyday. When I do, I don’t do it for longer than a half hour. I do always put my son’s toys away which only takes a minute and he helps me (or I help him). I deal with my mail at home 2x a week at the most. If I happen to miss an invitation to a party, oh well.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      @Everybody! (I’m back at my computer.) All I can say is – how refreshing to be away from my computer for a huge chunk of hours. Like Kristen, I often approach this daily writing like a job (for many reasons), though I’m not “paid” to do it. But 7 days a week (and I know that’s my choice), I nonetheless allow myself to be too bound to this machine, around the schedule of parenting and related tasks.

      Sometimes we all need to just “call the day” – or even half a day. I will admit the dentist took up a chunk, but the past few hours after, wandering here and there, unhurriedly, was very relaxing. Until my son called and said he was at home, had forgotten his key, and… you get the picture. :)

      Maybe we could all “schedule” a little time non-management now and then? (Oxymoronic, I know.)

      And Belinda, you clean every other day? If I clean every other month, my kids declare a national holiday.

  9. Jason says

    I took the day off so I could take my daughter to the dentist

    I did a bunch of boring errands, but I am reading this sitting at the bar of a little German sausage joint drinking a beer

    hopefully it is relaxing for my 4pm phone interview


    • BigLittleWolf says

      Well drink slowly if you have an interview! (Then have one for me, after… or better yet, a sausage.) What was this – dentist day? And I hope the interview goes well – whatever it is!

  10. says

    Kristen’s comment made me laugh.

    This is a timely reminder. Yes, I do have plenty of “must-dos” but I could also allow for more spontaneity in my planning. Is it really the end of the universe if I allow the dishes to go undone? Ok. It is. Still, for a few hours while I hang out with my kiddos? Or even blog? I think that it is worth it.

  11. Jason says

    I had boar sausage, spaetzel, potato salad & saurkraut
    and a large German beer that was small by German standards

  12. says

    I do the “shoulds” in my life way too often, which is why I then get resentful and exhausted and crash. WTF? I’m 41 years old, I ought to know better than this!


  13. says

    I struggled with this must/should/want question when I quit my corporate gig. It’s very freeing to be able to decide how to spend your day, without being told by someone else. It’s also harder to make a buck!

    • BigLittleWolf says

      @dadshouse – the must/should/want does get a little easier with “life”experience, doesn’t it.
      @TKW – (I get that doing all the shoulds then crashing thing! And thank you for the hugs.)
      @Jason – you’re making me hungry!
      @Amber – I love how you said you need to “allow for more spontaneity in your planning” – but I get that!

  14. says

    My problem is the opposite — NOT making lists of shoulds.

    For instance, I set up a lunch with friends and made sure that they were going to be at the restaurant at a certain time. Good friends. Then I also set up an appointment in the city with my boss. For the same time.

    Now, that kind of problem tells me I need more “shoulds” in my life. Or at least a less flighty way of organizing my days — or disorganizing them.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Might I suggest a $12 day planner you can carry in your purse? Or do you have one and forget to look at it? As simple as that sounds, it solved the problem for me years ago. Not high tech, but it works. :)

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