Why giving yourself a whole new kind of to-do list will help you through post-election day angst — and maybe a model for every day

The author’s to do list for the day after the US election, November 4, 2020.

Given the election results are still pending and it can be easy to be overwhelmed / distracted / distraught by that, I thought I’d share a few things that I’ll be doing today to keep myself feeling good (erm, as good as I can in this heightened uncertainty), and why they’ll help me feel okay as the day goes on.

  • Keeping my expectations of myself / my productivity low — there’s something kind about setting gentle expectations for ourselves. It becomes easier to benefit from a sense of accomplishment in a way we don’t if expectations are higher. That’s where the classic advice of ‘make your bed first thing in the morning’ comes from: it’s not to have a tidy bed at night (though that is nice), but rather, so you can immediately log a win, first thing in the morning. The same applies today, keep that to do list short and manageable.
  • Going for a long walk outside — nature doesn’t know we’re all in waiting mode, and there’s something super comforting about seeing a part of life go on as normal. Birds will hunt for food, leaves will fall, the sun will set, regardless of how many votes have yet to be counted. You can turn a work call into a walk and your colleagues will appreciate it — in fact, you’d likely be helping someone else by making the suggestion. Just yesterday I pinged a client to say I was going to walk while we talked, and she took it as an opportunity to drive to the park.
  • Picking up an innovative work project that I can get lost in for a while— perhaps counterintuitively, this is a great time to start something new. As Chris Baily, author of Hyperfocus, a book on productivity, notes in this BBC article, “big news days could be a good time to start a new project. That’s because our brain has a built-in ‘novelty bias’ that gives us a shot of the pleasure-inducing neurotransmitter dopamine.” Also, it’s a day where we’re likely to be lighter on meetings given external events, so we can really use that to our advantage.
  • Celebrating what I can — while we won’t know who won the presidential election for a while yet (and even then there will be a lot of angst), there are things we can celebrate. Look down the ballot (or off the ballot entirely). For me, there are several state propositions that I’m pleased to see passed, and my cousin was running for city council and won — that race has been counted and called.
  • Distracting myself with one of my favorite childhood activities — I love painting and it totally takes me away to another time. I rarely allow myself to make it happen, but when I do, I always walk away from it with a sense of lightness and accomplishment (despite the, erm, rawness of the output — I’m not actually a talented painter). These feelings actually parlay well back into productive work time. To make it more likely to happen, I’ve got this set up so it’s easy to dip in and paint for just 15 minutes or so, then get back to my workday.

If you look at this list, it looks nothing like an ordinary day’s to-do list. But, on a typical day it can be easy to feel both unaccomplished (no matter how much we do, there’s almost always at least one item undone on our lists) and completely spent (the modern workplace is filled with activity, much of it draining).

Today is a great day to prototype some more radical changes to how we energize ourselves — we may be pleasantly surprised by how productive we are. For instance, I played around with a similarly expansive list yesterday and made huge progress on a project I’d been stuck on for a while — I’d generated a ton of creative energy on a day when my only real goal was to make it through the day.

As Stephen Colbert quipped online, “the human body was not made to expend this much energy thinking about Pennsylvania.” So, let’s not. ;0

Item one on the to do list, get outside!

The author, founder of nau, leads teams and organizations in redesigning their tools and rituals to support healthier, happier workplace environments. Reach out to her here to learn more.

I help companies weave in kindness, creativity and humanity using human-centered design. Founder of Nau (www.inthenau.com) and Creative Collisions, IDEO alumna.