Why You Should Make a 'Sponge List' Before Your To-Do List
Our weeks tend to have a certain rhythm to them. Every Monday, we plan out what needs to be done: projects, emails, calls. Come Friday, we reflect on what we’ve accomplished over the week—aka what we’ve put out into the world. More often than not, we haven’t met all our goals. And, more often than not, we see this as a sign of failure.
Take a moment to think about why this is. When did we decide that what we produce defines us? And does it have to be this way? The answer: no.
“When it comes to measuring self-worth, many people use something just as unreliable as a random stick,” Amy Morin, L.C.S.W., writes on Psychology Today. “You may not even consciously think about what type of stick you use to measure your self-worth. But it's likely that, deep down, you know. After all, when you feel like you're measuring up, you feel good about yourself. But when you feel as though you've fallen short, your self-esteem likely plummets.”
For many of us, that “stick” is our output—since we can often see the fruits of our labor, we judge our days, our weeks, and even our overall self-worth by what we can produce. That often means that when our output dips, so does our self-esteem. If we’re not producing enough, not sending as many emails or getting as many hat-tips from our bosses, we start to think of our time as less successful, less productive.
But what if we changed it up?
What if, instead of focusing on our output, we focused on our input? Instead of noting the number of emails we sent or the miles we ran in a given week, what if we thought instead of the lessons that we learned? The experiences we had? The gratitude we feel? The needs we met? The things we let go of that didn't serve us any longer?
So often, we think of success and productivity as one-dimensional, flowing from ourselves out into the world. This week, shift your focus to what flows in to you instead.
To do this: Create what we're calling a "sponge list"—a list of feelings, lessons, or other things you want to absorb from your week. Creating this list will get you thinking about what you want to gain, and help you make moves to get it. Write it right alongside your to-do list to keep it front of mind.
To get started, ask yourself:
1. What do I want to feel?
We often think of our emotions as either out of our control (of course you’re going to be upset if you hear bad news) or entirely our choice (hello, “motivational” Instagram memes…).
Strive for a happy medium by setting yourself up for certain desired emotions. Think about how you’d like to feel as you move through the week. At peace? In control? Strong and sure of yourself?
Try adding one of these feelings to your sponge list for the week, then actively pursuing it. If you want to feel at peace, for example, you might want to add a metta meditation to the end of each day. Also called Loving-Kindness meditation, metta involves sending and receiving kindness and positivity through a series of mantras. Find more details here.
2. What can I learn from others?
Learning doesn’t end once you graduate from school—work, relationships, even current events can hold important lessons. This week, keep an eye out for lessons that others have to share. Maybe your work wife’s method of speaking up in meetings could help you find your own voice. Perhaps your boss had a point when she said you could do a better job of delegating—and would be happy to teach you how to do it.
Of course, learning a lesson requires checking your ego at the door—and, in some cases, a change in perspective. Boost your input by keeping an open mind while you speak with coworkers and friends, and try to silence that inner critic. You don’t have to accept everything someone tells you, but make an effort to avoid jumping to conclusions. At the end of the week, recap what you’ve learned.
3. What do I want to unlearn?
Hung up on negative self-talk? Sick of self-doubt? Clinging dearly to an old (and outdated) way of working? Clear up mental space by starting to unlearn that which no longer serves you.
Say you're struggling with unwelcome thoughts—start by challenging them when they pop up. Kailee Place, licensed professional counselor, tells HelloGiggles, “Taking a few moments to examine your thought and challenge it can help take the emotional impact away,” she says. “Just a few quick questions can really take the impact and ‘truth’ away from these terrible things we tell ourselves.”
Or, if you’re trying to unlearn a way of handling a task or situation, ask yourself why you’re so attached to that specific method. Is it the familiarity? The satisfaction of feeling right? Once you’ve gotten a sense of why you do certain things, you can get started on changing your habits.
Another way to work through the same idea of unlearning is to examine what you want more of and what you want less of in your life moving forward. Checking in with your needs in this way can help you recalibrate and move forward with your goals with clearer action items in mind—and the process of reflection can help you further your unlearning, too.
But remember: Your worth doesn't depend on crossing off every line on your sponge list, either. It's not your new self-worth measuring stick—it's your north star for the situations, lessons, and feelings you want to lean into.
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