My Must List: What I Do Every Day

I’m writing this right now because I must.

I don’t have to write it, though. There’s a difference between must and have to.

No one is checking to see if I sit my ass in this chair for an hour. I don’t have a deadline. No one is really counting on me to do this.1

So no, I don’t have to do it.

But still, I must.

I must do a few other things today, too. I must:

  • Write something in the morning.
  • Work on something important without distraction.
  • Read something (a book, a collection of blog posts, etc.) for a little while.
  • Do some kind of movement or exercise.
  • Have a conversation with someone.
  • Cook and eat something healthy and delicious.
  • Plan something fun to do in the future.

That’s my Must List. It’s new. I’ve only been following it for a couple of days.

They’ve been some of the most satisfying and life-affirming couple of days I’ve ever had.

Why a Must List?

For years I’ve kept detailed to-do lists and checklists to help keep me productive.

Most of the time they’d help. I’d write down super-specific goals for the day — wake up at 6:45 AM, train in the gym at 2PM, write for 3 hours on Project X — and try to cram every one of them into my day.

I got a lot done. But I was also mean to myself when I couldn’t finish it all.

If I didn’t write for 3 hours on Project X, I felt like a failure. I was wasting time. I was screwing around when I should have been accomplishing things. So I’d add it to my list for the next day and start all over again. Another failure waiting to happen. And a new list to be born out of that failure.

And when I was traveling or just didn’t feel like making my detailed to-do list, I was lost. Then I was even meaner to myself.

“You didn’t accomplish anything today. You didn’t do jack-shit. What a waste of a day.” 

My internal voice is a cold hard bitch sometimes.

And so I’d sit down with a piece of paper and make a little grid and start filling in the spaces.

A whole day, planned out. A rigid time schedule destined to run out of time. Not an inch or an hour to breathe.

That’s how it used to be.

Where I learned about the Must List

But over the holidays, I read a book2 by The Minimalists, two guys who’ve radically changed their lives in the past few years by getting rid of most of their stuff, living simply, and being conscious of how they spend their time, energy, and money.

In the book, they talk about their Must List, a list of things they must do to change their lives.

But when I read it, I didn’t think about how to drastically change my life. I like my life right now.

But the great thing about books is being able to take whatever’s valuable to you and tweaking or leaving the rest.

And so what I loved about their Must List was its simplicity.

There wasn’t a schedule to follow or a time slot for everything.

Instead, they zoomed in on the most important stuff in their lives — the stuff that made them healthier and happier — and just made sure to do a little something every day.

It inspired me to create my own Must List.

My Must List, Revisited

  • Write something in the morning.
  • Work on something important without distraction.
  • Read something (a book, a collection of blog posts, etc.) for a little while.
  • Do some kind of movement or exercise.
  • Have a conversation with someone.
  • Cook and eat something healthy and delicious.
  • Plan something fun to do in the future.

Those are the things that make me feel healthy and happy. 

And so, I must do them every day.

The beauty of the Must List is in the interpretation. It can be whatever I need it to be, depending on the day and my mood. It’s flexible.

  • Do some kind of movement or exercise.

Yesterday I stretched for 10 minutes and went for a walk. The day before I did a workout circuit at home. Today I’m going to the gym.

  • Write something in the morning.

Yesterday it was a hand-written letter. The day before that it was editing and re-working an article. Today it’s writing this post you’re reading.

As a list-maker, this is heaven.

I’ve narrowed down the stuff in my life that matters most and made it easy to fit all of it into one day.

How to make your own Must List

List-maker or not, I think everyone would find it helpful to write down what’s important to them, the stuff that matters.

Then it’s just turning  “I would like to” or “I should do” into “I must do this because it makes me happy.”

If you want to make your own Must List, here are some questions to answer:

What do you like to do for fun? 

I like to read. I like to talk to people. I like to do meaningful work. I like to make food. That stuff is all on my Must List.

When do you feel like you’re your best self?

I feel bad about myself when I don’t exercise. I feel good about myself when I do exercise. So I decided to do some kind of exercise every day.

All of the things on my Must List make me my best self.

What do you like to do…that you’ve been neglecting?

Before reading the book by the Minimalists, I couldn’t remember the last book I read in the middle of the day. (Usually I just read for a little while before bed.)

But I like reading books in the middle of the day. I just never made time for it. Now I must.

What are you good at? 

Whatever you’re good at should be at the top of your Must List.

I feel like I’m a good writer. But the only way to become a better writer is to practice. And so now I must write something every day.

Writing isn’t always fun for me. Most of the time it’s not.

I’m not actually enjoying this right now. It’s hard.

But I’m good at it, and I like how it makes me feel to sit here and put thoughts on a screen, and I hope other people read it and like it too.

But even if they don’t like it, I’ll still do it.

Because I must.

 

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What I’m currently enjoying: Sweet chamomile tea by Townshends.

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Nate Green

Hi, I'm Nate. I tell stories about things I'm learning, trying, or thinking about. I'm also a copywriter and marketing strategist for Precision Nutrition. More About Me

  1. And to be honest, when I sat down, I didn’t even know what I was going to write about. continue reading

  2. That book, by the way, is Everything That Remains. Highly recommended. continue reading