3 Things to take off your to do list right now

Make a list of five things you want to do that you’re not doing. Now cross out all but one. Everyone can make change in our lives, but not that much change. And you’re not making the change you really want because you haven’t realized that you can’t do everything on your list.

That should be the end of the post. But it’s too difficult. Because the issue is actually how much you want to accomplish something. To do something on your list you have to want it so much that you will give up the other stuff. So what’s hard is paring down the list to just one thing, and that’s keeping you from doing any of the things that matter to you.

So I’m going to help you. Here are three ideas .

A career that changes the world for the better. 
Careers where someone is actually changing the world are also the careers where people are totally driven. They work long hours and they are hyper-focused on their mission. This is what is required to change the world.

Most people don’t actually want that, because no one who is dreaming about switching to that career will ever have that kind of career. If you truly want it, you already have it.

If you don’t already have it, then what you probably really want is a job that’s meaningful to you. But meaningful jobs that are not all-consuming are volunteer jobs. I mean, really, why should someone pay you to casually, and comfortably help make the world a better place?

If you have a job now, it’s probably fine. For now. Most people who want to have a meaningful job that does not preclude a home life end up taking care of their own kids. Or having a job that pays very little.

I know. This is not popular to say, but it’s popular to do (especially INFJs who are most likely to want a meaningful job, most likely to loathe the business world, and most likely to say they are not having kids until the day they have them.)

A significant other. 
In order to find someone who is not a complete loser, you have to admit to the whole world that you hate being alone and you are sick of being lonely and you want someone to love you.

A lot of you will think that sounds desperate and needy. You know who does not think this sounds desperate and needy? The people who have a long-term commitment from a loving partner. The most well-adjusted, capable, wise people want to be with someone who needs them. No one wants to feel disposable, and the opposite of disposable is needed.

To make someone feel needed, you have to tell them you have needs. Which means you need to make time in your life to feel lonely. Because if you never feel lonely, you don’t have a need for someone to meet. And if you do not have time to experience loneliness then you have not made room in your life for someone to come into it.

So to find a significant other, you need to give up whatever is taking up so much of your time. You need to give up the idea that you are SO BUSY. You need to sit at home, sit with yourself alone, and figure out what you need instead of what you have.

Time for yourself.
This is, of course, the anthem of women who have kids and a job. I confess that I have never heard a guy tell me he needs time for himself. I have only heard men say they have no idea when the baby takes a nap.

Time for myself is always on my own list. So I did what all time management gurus (who I do not like but whatever) do:  I created a schedule that included “time for myself.”

I scheduled 40 minutes for yoga every morning but then I didn’t want to do it so I drank coffee instead. I felt bad that I was not following my schedule so I added a lot of milk and sugar and I drank it fast like an addict and it seeped into the next, non-yoga part of my new schedule.

I also scheduled time to read. But I think I have to be honest about reading in that I get way more pleasure from working. I mostly just read to work. (Example: I just read an issue of Departures magazine. Melissa had it because she is super-genius-golden-platinum on American Airlines. I only read it because I knew I could tell you about things the super-rich care about, because who isn’t curious about that? What I learned is that just like a new car has a distinct smell, a new trench coat has a distinct smell as well. And Burberry scent aficionados say new trench coat smells like a combination of cardamom, lavender, tarragon and grapefruit.)

So it’s not that I want time for myself. I’m really good at knowing what I want to do and then actually doing it. I am already doing what I want to do. So my to do list (and maybe yours too) is the list of stuff I don’t actually want to do that much. It’s all equally not-essential to me. Nothing is so important that I would cross off everything else for it.

70 replies
  1. Maria
    Maria says:

    Actually, when it comes to meeting someone who is not a loser, it’s the straight opposite. People who hate being alone will take anyone, and any deal,and that’s the straight opposite of making your S.O feel special. Which only a loser would accept.

    • ellen
      ellen says:

      Yeah, confused by that part, I would love to fall in love (again -but this time with someone worthy) and although I do feel lonely sometimes I am actually happy being alone, I am busy though, dancing is time consuming. I am seriously so confused when people speak of being alone as if it’s something to avoid even if it means being with someone who is not healthy to be with. The guys I’ve dated lately want me to commit after a short time, that is a red flag.

  2. Mark
    Mark says:

    Love the tip about substituting coffee for morning meditation! I do both by standing barefoot (the technical or medical term is “Earthing”) in the lawn and either walk around our gorgeous garden or stand still and watch the sun break the horizon. Earthing stabilizes the body electrically (free electrons in the earth neutralize positive charged free radicals in your body) and naturally reduces inflammation and you just feel better…and you can do it while drinking coffee. It works best early in the morning when the dew has dampened the grass and it is just a bit on the cool or cold side, which the coffee and the sunrise both compensate for. I suppose you could do it in your yoga outfit if you need to check that off a daily list. Try it and you’ll love it.

  3. Shannon
    Shannon says:

    Oh my gosh, so much truth here. I have five small kids, and I homeschool, and own my own business, and my husband farms, which means is gone often….blah blah blah. So I schedule time for myself, and I list all the things I always am dying to do while I am taking care of other people: run (alone), write blog posts, do a barre class, etc.

    As it turns out, those are the things I feel like I can do without feeling guilty, not necessarily what I actually WANT to do. What I seem to really want to do is watch incredibly bad TV and lay around. But when I do that, I feel like garbage. I’m pretty sure this has to be a personality thing. I have friends who never feel that way.

  4. Greg
    Greg says:

    “I confess that I have never heard a guy tell me he needs time for himself”.
    Let me help you out, here. I’m a man, and I really really need time for myself. 24 hours a day are barely enough since I found out I’m not immortal -shocking!

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Yeah. Okay. I wrote that poorly. What I mean is that men take the time they need for themselves and women don’t. This is one of the reasons mens’ career do better when they have a family and women’s careers tank when they have a family.

      Everyone needs a lone time. Men take it more readily than women do. Hm. And as I write this, I think it might be cultural as well. But I have to think about that…


  5. Ann
    Ann says:

    Nice neat article. I love the list of five exercise and the conclusion you draw. But what’s this about people who change the world being hyper-focused and driven? Do you mean change the world like Gandhi or just make the world a better place? Because you can most certainly make the world a better place in significant ways, comfortably.

  6. anna f
    anna f says:

    How I love this. I am a psychotherapist, an INFJ. I am sitting here, drinking my XL coffee, and thinking about how much I love my work, except I don’t leave myself time to do yoga, or run, or read…(except about whatever issue is relevant to my clients at this juncture). My kids are grown, spouse has moved on after three decades, and it’s all very satisfying. People get better. The work we do together is deeply meaningful and engaging. Maybe I need to drop the list.

  7. Giovanni
    Giovanni says:

    “I am already doing what I want to do. So my to do list (and maybe yours too) is the list of stuff I don’t actually want to do that much” reminded me of something an engineer once told me; Every system is perfectly designed to deliver the results it’s producing. When I feel like I’m wanting to do too many things I use that thought to reverse engineer my recent actions to find out what’s really most important to me, invariably it’s the things I’m already doing. Thanks for another thought provoking post!

  8. Evy MacPhee
    Evy MacPhee says:

    I am 68 and just facing the truth of my high blood pressure. At this time, I really would prefer not to die of a heart attack, heart disease gallops in my family, or a stroke. Or otherwise deal with the lesser consequences of same.

    Since I am just beginning to attend to this problem, I am adding blood pressure lowering activities to my daily life and focusing on them.

    Interesting to think back to when I had more leeway to add new things to my life.

    Yes, I am trying to find a blood pressure medication I can tolerate, too.

  9. Femmy
    Femmy says:

    Did you watch the movie, “The Big Short”?

    I finally saw it on DVD. It’s awesome. I love it. And I want to see it again.

    I thought of you. Because you said some very successful CEOs have Aspergers. And I saw that it was true.

    Your post is funny today. Thank you for clarifying things. It’s appreciated.


  10. Habitually off-topic
    Habitually off-topic says:

    Everytime I think I found something that makes me unique, the world lets me know otherwise.

    I’m not unique because I sort my food by cabinet on the grocery store conveyor belt.

    My toddler asking if he can sit on my lap while I poop also doesn’t make me unique.

    And being an INFJ that said she wasn’t going to have kids until the moment she had kids and then left the God awful corporate world because raising them is so much more meaningful apparently doesn’t make me unique.

    Good thing being unique is overrated.


    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      People sort groceries on the conveyor belt? I didn’t know that. It’s so smart!


      • Mark Homer
        Mark Homer says:

        But, don’t the baggers put stuff in the bag in the order they want? Such as softer, smaller, more breakable stuff on top.

        • Habitually off-topic
          Habitually off-topic says:

          All.The.Time. I know the few baggers that get it right, and I try to get in their line.

          What I’ve discovered is bagging groceries is harder than it looks. You need to make decisions on what to put where before you know everything in the pipeline.

          To state the obvious: I’m a chronic overthinker. Must be an INFJ thing ;-)

      • Laura
        Laura says:

        Also INFJ, and I sort my groceries on the belt. (Btw — left a Fortune 500 job when I had kids. Now working way below my abilities at a church and volunteering with the poor on my days off. I’m a happy stereotype!)

      • Jen
        Jen says:

        INFJ here. I always sort my groceries, even when I go to Aldi and they just get jumbled up again in the cart and I have to bag them myself.

    • Kristen
      Kristen says:

      Maybe the grocery sorting is an INFJ thing? I totally have a system for organizing my groceries at the store so it’s easy to unpack when I get home. I try to choose the lines with no baggers so I can do it myself haha. To your point, I thought I was kind of unique in doing this, but it’s refreshing to find out that we’re not always as special/weird as we thought we were!

        • Maria
          Maria says:

          Infp here- I do the same with groceries. But order flies out the window in just about everything else I do.

          • Rayne of Terror
            Rayne of Terror says:

            ISFP here and I sort the groceries on the conveyor belt and compliment the bagger when they pay attention and don’t mix everything up. When my sons are helping I have to tell them over & over to keep like things together “to make it easier for the checker” but really it’s for me.

        • Karelys
          Karelys says:

          Yes! haha omg I do it too.

          I am an INFJ and felt so lonely for so long so I put the foods that go together by personality because it only makes sense. And having them just scrambled and disorganized is physically painful in my frontal lobes.

      • Missy
        Missy says:

        I’m an ENTP and I sort my groceries by category (meats and dairy together, boxed dried goods, produce, etc). But I’m a scientist and it just appeals to my sense that it’s the right thing to do (because why the hell would you put the meat with the Cheerios?), not that it’s particularly orderly.

      • Tk
        Tk says:

        I sort the groceries how I want them bagged on the belt, then I actually tell the baggers not to bag because I want to (ENTJ), but I try to find lines without them, or just use the self check now. Micro-managing decisions about how I want stuff bagged was too annoying.

        • Meghan
          Meghan says:

          ESFJ and I’ve been a check out conveyor belt sorter for years. I put the cold stuff down first, then produce, then dry stuff and non foods. If I wasn’t so tired all the time I would revert to my old system of get the f out of my way careless teenager, and let me bag my own groceries. I live in Texas and it’s hot. If you don’t bag the cold stuff first, the Popsicles for the kids I quit my job for will melt before I get home and the little monsters will whine and cry on the kitchen floor until I freeze new ones out of orange juice. Always wanted kids. But now with three aged 2, 4 and 6, sometimes all I want is my job back.

  11. Aya
    Aya says:

    I’ve seen you mention that INFJ’s are ambivalent about children several times before on this blog. I feel like I really really need more information on why this is, and I can’t find anything about this. I have three kids and I often feel so torn by this feeling of ambivalence. Can you elaborate please?

    I totally agree with point number one here. I’ve given up on my dreams of saving the world in favor of a low paying but very easy and stress free job which frees me up to care for my young kids.

    “If you truly want it, you already have it.” So harsh, so true.

    • Habitually off-topic
      Habitually off-topic says:

      What may appear as ambivalence to some, was fear for me. Fear of the risks that come with loving another more than you love yourself.

      Knowing if, God forbid, something were to happen to my child, that I would wish I was dead.

      But INFJs don’t seem feel the same way other feeling types do. Perhaps we come across as ambivalence for that reason.

    • Jen
      Jen says:

      As an INFJ who has always (as far back as I can remember) been ambivalent at best about parenthood, I find this fascinating. Turns out it’s a moot point because I’m infertile. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit relieved about not having to make that decision. I tend to overthink things and as much as I love and enjoy my nieces and nephew and friends’ kids, I can’t see past the significant risk of screwing up any children of my own.

  12. kara
    kara says:

    You’ve explained perfectly why my 10-yr plan is now a what-I’ll-do-when-I-retire plan. My realationship, my job(which I’m loving) and my me-time are all I’ve got time for. Finishing my novel and daily yoga and meditation would be pushing it. I’ve settled for sporadic bouts of writing and yoga whenever it occurs to me. I’m a chronic list-maker of everything I “wish” I was doing.

  13. Mom
    Mom says:

    Two things. There’s a typo in your second sentence – it should be Now cross out … And Departures Magazine – they’re free for everyone in the back of the seat on AA flights – even in economy class :) You don’t need to be super Platinum. You’ve been posting a lot more recently. I’m taking that as a good sign! Plus, I (and everyone else) like to read your columns. Love, Mom

  14. Harriet May
    Harriet May says:

    I had such a long list of the things I wanted to do but wasn’t doing. And then I moved to London and made lots of interesting friends and got a marketing job that I love and met my fiancé and then I didn’t. Well, maybe to read more. And maybe to comment on your blog more. Ok, I certainly had on my list to blog more– well ok at all. But then I took down all my old posts on my blog and started it from scratch with a new approach which felt so much more organic (is that lame to say? It’s very Whole Foods. And Whole Foods is popular) that even my dad commented about it on Facebook.

    And look, I’ve even commented on your blog for the first time in ages.

    • Karelys
      Karelys says:

      I’ve missed you!

      Do you have an accent? I read all your comments with an accent. A slight accent.

      I am so happy you have a blog so that I can get to know you now.

  15. maggieorganizingchaos
    maggieorganizingchaos says:

    I get that second part that so many above don’t get. That’s because I spent many years trying to change someone- trying to get them to respond to my needs (not meet them, but just to care about them). In the end, I realized that my efforts to get him to “see” was actually me avoiding the reality that I was entrenched in an idea of what relationships look like in a traditional sense. I think my grief over the relationship was more about letting go of that ideal or that idea of them than anything else.

    As for a job that will change the world – that I have – I’m the parent of a whole life learner. It is THE most important job in the world. And it does require long hours, and I also drink coffee over me time. ;-P

  16. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    I’m so confused. For years I’ve been an INTJ. Every single test said so. But I want a job that has some meaning. Instead, I’m home with my twin 12-year olds who have IEPs, and trying to find a job that has some meaning, only I hate the business world and don’t really care as much about technical details as I think I used to, and can’t find a meaningful job really. But I enjoy writing fiction. Maybe I’m an INFJ after all. Which isn’t at all what this post is about. But I did this exercise, and stopped trying to do three things that would require all of my attention and focused on one. It took me forever to realize I can’t possibly focus on three big things. Duh. I love your writing.

  17. Joyce
    Joyce says:

    Do the jobs that change the world for the better require Judgers? I’m a big Perceiver, but it seems that every job I had changed the world for the better. While I worked long hours, I did not feel totally driven and hyper-focused. I was just doing my best. Thank you!

  18. Graham
    Graham says:

    I think the most well adjusted capable and wise people actually are looking for someone who wants them rather than needs them. The strongest relationships are those where both parties are OK on their own but choose instead to be together. This is a relationship which adds to their lives rather than completing it.

    The point about “to-do” lists being full of things we don’t actually want to do is spot on. That’s why we struggle to get them completed.

  19. Missy
    Missy says:

    I love this! I’m super driven and obsessed and basically forced myself into the lives of a bunch of medical researchers so that I could do research for them as a hobby after I lost my job when my kid got sick. I’m doing that and doing part time work that I used to be obsessed and fascinated by. I love you, Penelope.

    That being said, I spoke to my shrink about this overwhelming feeling of anxiety that I’m not DOING enough. She forced me to take breaks three times a day to sit, doing nothing. It is absolute hell. I’ve turned mine into coffee time, too, and I do scarf it down and turn what should be 15 minutes of me being mindful into a 5 minute “what am I not doing right now AHHHHHH” kind of thing. Cracks me up.

    • Missy
      Missy says:

      I should add that I’m an ENTP and will never stop being fascinated by damn near everything.

  20. Joyce
    Joyce says:

    Thank you for the last two points. The need for time for myself overrides the want for a significant other and children. Reading your blog is like a journey for self-acceptance.

  21. Tiffany
    Tiffany says:

    I don’t know how to take time for myself and I’m not even a mother yet. I feel that any time spent on anything that isn’t leading to some sort of progression or accomplishment is time poorly spent. I’ll go months without turning on the tv to watch something for fun and then wonder why I feel like I never get a break! It’s crazy what we do to ourselves.

  22. Emily
    Emily says:

    I actually needed to do this – make a list – in order to have a kid. Once I realized that family was at the top in, I had to stop doing everything that didn’t do contribute to this goal. Now I have a month old and I’m happy to go on to what was #2 on the list.

  23. Shannon
    Shannon says:

    INTJ. I left law (which I loved before I had a baby) to stay at home with my kids. And I shop at Aldi in part because I can bag my own groceries, hence doing it the right way. ?

  24. Kate
    Kate says:

    Penelope, I just want to thank you for your blog. I found it 5 years ago when I was 25 growing my career and I thought you were completely bizarre (although my best friend and I detected no lies in your brilliant “blueprint for a woman’s life” article)

    Now I’m 30, working part-time, & getting married next week and your posts are hitting so close to home. Thank you for giving us the truth even when we’re not ready to hear it

  25. Sue Saito
    Sue Saito says:

    Penelope, I love what you say about finding a partner.
    When I was single — and I was for a long-ass time – while all my Buddhist friends were determining to spend the year helping other people, I was pledging that this was the year I’d get married. Year after year, it never changed. I wasn’t shy about voicing what I wanted, but internally I struggled with the idea.
    I chanted every which way about it, from desperate, fire-spitting, “I will pull him from 10,000 miles away” prayers to chanting to be the happiest single girl ever. Along the way, my best friend told me, “It’s ok to want a boyfriend.” And my mom said, “I hope you find someone who will take care of you. Your dad took care of me.” And slowly all the hard edges I had about being vulnerable and wanting to be loved melted away and I was able to meet my husband at age 45. He is amazing. More than I could have ever dream of. And the happiness I knew was missing is so permanently there in my heart. Even if he were to go away tomorrow, I know I changed something deep in my life through the experience of never giving up on my dream to have a happy relationship. Our environments are a perfect reflection of our inner lives.

    I am going to share this post with all my single friends. You’re the best!

  26. Amanda
    Amanda says:

    I am either an INFJ or INFP. I don’t have time to sort groceries (anymore, used to put frozen and cold first, then pantry stuff then fruit and veg and lastly bread) but I hate when people don’t bag nicely (Trader Joes employees do).
    I had forgotten that I was ambivalent about having kids until I DID decide to have them, and I didn’t want to go back to my social work job once I was a mom and now I’m an occasional homeschooling parent, who can’t find a job I’d rather do than be home, for now.

  27. stephie
    stephie says:

    I really like what you said about the significant other. I get what you are saying, probably because I am in a “long-term commitment from a LOVING partner.” I think a few folks missed the “loving” part. I don’t think I could have a loving relationship with someone I thought was a loser (aka do not respect).

  28. Joel
    Joel says:

    There is a quote that I see very often that says something along the lines of “We should leave the world in a better place than we found it.” The issue is, as is pointed out, is that takes laser focus and a ton of work. Personally, I believe it to worth every moment. If you are unable to change the world, change your world. We all have the given right to enjoy what we do, how we do it and when we do it. If your current situation doesn’t align with this, perhaps it is time to rethink your situation.

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  31. antininefive
    antininefive says:

    >Significant other

    100% truth right there. I didn’t realize how much time I wasted on this girl I used to date. Right now focusing on my blog, I wouldn’t have time to grow it if I was still with her

  32. Benard Lamarche
    Benard Lamarche says:

    Instead of a to do list, in business i focus on revenue generating activities I hate to do, list them out, and start doing those, carefully i start learning to like them and and get better at doing them.
    The To do list I leave for my wife, she better at pointing those out.

    Great article.


  33. robin
    robin says:

    omg. i’m drinking coffee and reading blogs instead of working on a drawing that is due. this is so funny. thank you for helping me not be so hard on myself. have a great day.

  34. ELJ
    ELJ says:

    It’s time of change! Everyone are looking for a new job abroad and companies are looking for a multilingual speakers. So, people should find a job abroad!

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