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The Art of the Infinite List

Coming to terms with the fact that you can't do it all is liberating. By Tasha Miller Griffith.

Posted in: Creativity & Mindset • December 31, 2014

For most of my adult life, I’ve struggled with the idea that I’ll never be able to do everything I’d like to; there just aren’t enough hours in one lifetime for all the places I’d like to go, books I’d like to read, recipes I’d like to cook, and most of all, things I’d like to make. As makers, we’re particularly vulnerable to feeling the unfairness of a limited amount of time to sew, knit, and create. We have long lists of “must-do” projects that only grow longer as time goes on.

One day, I had an epiphany while I was cleaning my house. I looked around and realized that I could clean non-stop, without sleeping, until my company came, and still see deeper levels of dirt and areas I had missed.

That’s when my revelation came: it’s not just that my list is incredibly long, and getting longer, hovering out there, tempting and tormenting me with the possibility that I might someday get to the end of it.

It's also that the list is infinite. By definition, it is impossible to finish. We all know in some way that this is true; just think about it. As soon as you make one thing or learn one new skill, another 5 or 10 awesome ideas for things to make jump into your head.

But in that moment, I was set free instead of defeated. After all, if the list is impossible to finish, I can stop worrying about finishing it. Here are the lessons I've learned about coping with the reality of an infinite list:

Set priorities.

I’m never going to get to everything, so what is most important for me to make right now? It could be what I most need, or what’s most inspiring to me at that moment; hopefully, it’s a combination of the two.

Budget time for the things you love.

Don’t freak out if you haven’t gathered this already, but it’s true: all the other lists are infinite too. I'm talking about the house fix-it list, the list of things you could do for or with your kids (you already knew that one, didn’t you?), the work list (if you’re self employed, you definitely already knew that one).

But take a deep breath and you'll realize that this is freeing too. It’s impossible to do everything on your lists, therefore waiting until you “have more time” to do what you really want will never work. Make the time for your own creativity, as well as the other things you need, even if it’s only 15 minutes a day. I find this is essential to my mental well-being.

Leave room for spontaneity.

This is part of the freedom of the infinite list for me. If I can’t finish the list, then it’s pointless to keep my head buried like an ostrich in it, ignoring what’s going on around me. I’m not advocating skipping around from project to project, but I’m saying it’s OK to take inspiration from the moment and make your latest idea first.

It’s also OK to have projects that percolate in the back of your mind for years before they come to fruition. And, it’s also OK to have plenty of ideas in the form of sketches, patterns, or saved pictures, and to realize that a lot of them will never be more than that, and let those go.

The joy of the infinite list is in the letting go. Just take a deep breath, appreciate the moment, and make something you’ll treasure.

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