I want you follow me down a strange and interesting thought experiment.

We all have things that we have to do. Much of the precious minutes of our short lives gets spent completing those things we have to do. For many of us, have-to-dos represent the majority of our time. For some us, nearly every waking minute is spent getting things done that we have to do.

But we don’t HAVE to do those things. There is no element of Newtonian physics that requires you to go work on Monday. No part of string theory compels you to reply to your emails. You don’t have to pick up your laundry from the dry cleaners. You could just leave it there.

So I want you to start making a list of everything that takes up time during your week. You can use this week if you’ve already got your schedule, or just a typical week. Start making the list of all the things you have to do and about how much time they will take up. You can be as detailed or vague as you like.

Write the list down if you want to.

Do that now.

Ok, now go through each item one by one and let’s acknowledge that technically speaking, you are not forced to do them.

Now visualize in a very detailed manner how you could unburden yourself from them. The trick here is to really walk through and visualize every step.

Start with the small nitpick stuff

  • Delete your Facebook and Gmail.
  • Just leave your clothes at the dry cleaners. Nothing to do there, just don’t pick them up.
  • Check engine light is on? Just get out of your car and walk away. Leave it on a street somewhere with the keys in the ignition.
  • Sell your lawnmower
  • Smash your dirty dishes
  • Let your pet gerbil roam free

If you wrote the list down, start making little notes on how you’d dump each and every thing.

Of course you have to quick your job.

That’s a big chunk of your have-to’s for sure. So, mentally quit your job. You can just dash off and email, handwrite a letter and walk it in to your boss, or you can go all Office Space. It’s up to you but visualize it the whole way through.

Now things get a bit dicey because you have some moral obligations. But stick with me here. We’re getting rid of ALL of our have-to’s in this experiment. EVERYTHING. Moral obligation or not.

Write a heartfelt letter to your family that you will no longer be visiting for any holidays.

Got kids? Get rid of the buggers. Buy them a round the world flight and send them on their way. Too young travel? Drop them off on Angelina Jolie’s stoop. Or just don’t ever pick them up from day care. Honestly, they’ll probably be fine.

This is stupid! It’s insane! Of course I can’t do any of this stuff. Do it, in your head, every incredibly awkward minute of it.

Now, look at your life. Look at the free day in front of you. Look at the open week ahead. Look at the decades of the rest of your life. A blank canvas, totally unburdened of obligations and yours to fill with only things that you WANT to do.

Now, if your day/week/life doesn’t look like this, remember, it’s because you are choosing for it not to be. Technically you could choose not to do some of them or any of them. We just walked through how you’d do it. The ways out might be anything from terrifying to morally abhorrent, but they are options. But more likely the things you’d have to do, or not do, to get out of those obligation are probably pretty pedestrian. Pretty unscary when you actually visualize them.

So maybe try this from time to time

I find this to be incredibly helpful when I’m worrying about stuff I have to do. I take a moment, visualize exactly how I would go about just not doing any of it, with as much practicality and detail as I can. I compare multiple options, consider the ramifications. In a minute or two I have a Plan B and then I just decide to either do that or not to and stop freaking out about it (pro tip: sometimes you should do it).

So you’ve broken down your life to blank canvas, do you want to fill it back up?

This may seem like a stupid question. But ask it to yourself anyway. Am I bored of life? Given this blank canvas of minutes left on Earth, do I want to go to the effort of filling it back up with ways that I’ll spend my time? Am I still excited by the possibilities of things not done and seen. Do I still want to learn new things, master new crafts, meet new people?

Hopefully the answer is yes so let’s move on.

Ok, now start filling up that canvas

You can start adding back things that you want to do. Get the kids back from Brangelina because they’re the lights of your lives or whatever. Pick up your laundry because you don’t want to smell.

Start filling it all back, considering them one by one.

How does your day look like now? An extra hour in there to sit down with a book? How about your week? Did you just found out how to fit in those Tai Chi classes you’ve been wanting to take or that literature course. Or you finally have a enough time to tackle Ulyssess.

Maybe it looks radically different. Isn’t that interesting.

Sometimes it’s fun to start this part from the other end. Pick things you’ve always wanted to do, things you’ve wanted to change or add to your life and drop onto the canvas first then fill in the rest with whatever you got time for an leave the rest off.

I’m really curious to know. What did you find out from this little experiment?

photo credit: Kamil Dziedzina Photos

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