A Humble To-Do List with a Mighty Purpose

“If you know your purpose in life, you will live in a radically different way than if you don’t know it. And this sense of purpose will certainly impact how you perform basic life tasks, including paying your bills,” Julia Marie Hogan Werner writes in A Work in Progress: Embracing the Life God Gave You, published by Our Sunday Visitor, 2022. 

Purpose in life sounds so grandiose.

We may be tempted to think, how can anyone know their purpose in life? We have too many demands each day to think about such a big, abstract concept. 

Werner explains, those demands can help us discover and keep in mind the bigger picture, our purpose in life, even as our purpose reminds us why we’re doing these mundane tasks anyway. 

Do you have a to-do list?

I have

  • scribbled on a scraps paper
  • tracked events on Excel
  • used weekly checklists
  • relied on fancy note pads labeled as such
  • entered my tasks on Google Calendar

and am now embarking on regular meetings with my husband to discuss our communal list saved electronically. 

Write things down, I say. It’s too much to keep in one’s mind. When it pops into your head, write it down or enter it into your digital list, then move on. At the beginning of the day, assess what you have time for. Ask what is urgent? What is important? What needs preparing? and so on. The list helps us focus. It frees us from the weight of holding it. It helps us fulfill our commitments by helping us not forget what we said we’d do.

All those tasks add up.

How we live determines how much or little that living helps us move towards or away from our purpose in life. We cannot know where we stand unless we have a sense of what this purpose might be. Without knowing that, it’s easy to come to a place in life when we ask, “What’s the point of all this?”

The understanding we have of our purpose is grounded in knowing what we value. She writes, “Values are things that are most important to us. Values also signify to us — and this is very important to note — what qualities we use to measure our own worth and the worth of others.” The day-to-day may be what presses on our minds most, but we can shape what our lists look like best when they are written against the backdrop of a clear articulation of our values.

Values point us to our purpose.

What we prioritize, where we spend our time, reveals what we value. “When something is a true priority, we make time for it,” Werner writes.

According to Werner, expectations also influence what we think we should do. We must consider whether our expectations are realistic or unrealistic. Werner warns, “A general rule of thumb is that unhealthy and unrealistic expectations tend to be strict, rigid, and difficult or impossible to achieve…For many of us, our guiding expectation in life is an impossible standard of perfection. This is called perfectionism.”

Your list may have too many things, more than you can possibly accomplish if you mean to also uphold less measurable values like “quality time with family” or “talking to my spouse” or “be kind to others.”

It can be disappointing to admit we cannot complete all the things on our list, that we need to delegate or, possibly let people down. Werner reminds us, “By honoring our priorities we are saying “yes” to the fulfilling and authentic life we are meant to live.”

Maybe perfectionism isn’t the issue.

Maybe the to-do list tasks make us feel the burden more than we’d like. For this, values come in again, animating our work and reminding us why they are on the list at all. Werner describes it, “Priorities are the ‘how,’ and your values are your ‘why’.” You clear the drain, tighten the sink faucet, reset the sprinkler timer or schedule the doctor’s appointment because there is an overarching reason why these are important. 

Ultimately, it most likely points back to love.

Love of one’s duty, of family, of spouse, of community, or God. We are most motivated to do these things best when we remember we do them for sake of another. Mother Teresa once wrote,

“Wash the dishes not because it is dirty nor because you are told to wash it, but because you love the person who will use it next.”

Washing the dishes becomes a moment to show love. If we focus in on the tasks on the list and at the end of the day, we have a better sense the purpose of what we are doing.

That is our purpose in life.

Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.
Disclosure: I received a copy of A Work in Progress: Embracing the Life God Gave You in order to provide an honest review. You can read my first take here. The content of this book is so good that rather an a one-and-done read, I find myself referencing it frequently. I cannot recommend it enough.

1 Comment

  1. Kathleen says:

    This is such an important subject! I’m reminded of the saying, “If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail”. As a homeschooling mother it takes intentional time to really evaluate my priorities. This book sounds like a great resource. I’ll have to check it out.

    Thank you for writing the review!

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