The Urgency of Piles

When our to-do items build up, they can take on an urgency they don't require
BY Leo Babauta TIMESeptember 22, 2022 PRINT

Someone I know shared that they came back from a meditation retreat excited about the meaningful possibilities they had envisioned on the retreat—new projects, opportunities, and important stuff they wanted to create.

It’s so incredible to be excited about meaningful possibilities!

And then they got home, and there were piles of tasks, emails, and messages waiting for them. The urgency of those piles distracted them from their better intentions.

The urgency of piles throws off all of our best-laid plans.

We have to deal with piles all the time:

  • Tasks piling up on our to-do lists
  • Emails and messages piling up in our inboxes
  • Papers piling up on our desks and documents piling up on our computer desktops
  • Tabs piling up in the browser
  • Chores and errands piling up, phone calls needing to be made, and things needing to be fixed or cleaned
  • Clutter piling up all over our homes

These piles of tasks, messages, errands, and chores feel urgent. We can’t seem to ignore them in favor of what’s most important. Piles seem to represent neglected obligations. They come with an anxiety that makes us want to fix them over whatever else is calling for our attention.

Sometimes we ignore the urgent piles, but that doesn’t make the feeling of urgency or anxiety go away—it only makes it worse. It’s like trying to bury our heads in the sand and pretend the problem isn’t there. The pile is still calling to us, but we put our fingers in our ears and hum loudly in hopes of drowning out its urgent pleas.

There’s nothing wrong with this tendency to want to either tackle the piles or ignore them. There’s nothing wrong with the urgency or anxiety of these piles. But what if we could create a new relationship with them?

What if the piles are opportunities to serve, to love, or to play? Would we feel less anxious and urgent about these opportunities to play? The piles don’t have to say anything about our adequacy or inadequacy—they’re just playgrounds.

Or they could be seen as a garden. We want to tend to these little sprouts with care, but they aren’t a forest fire that we need to urgently deal with. We can bring our love and care to them, but not urgently.

With this new relationship to our piles, we can also turn our attention to something that’s deeper: a project that’s meaningful, a place to bring our hearts and our curiosity. We can bring our deepest intentions of meditation, reflection, and expression. We can deepen our relationships and spend time with those we love without the urgency of the piles calling to us from our phones and laundry baskets.

What would you like to do with your days if you didn’t have to feel the urgency of the piles?

Leo Babauta
Leo Babauta is the author of six books and the writer of Zen Habits, a blog with over 2 million subscribers. Visit ZenHabits.net
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