To-Do or not To-Do, that is the question. I have a wide pendulum swing when it comes to To-Do lists. There are times when I am obsessively writing, writing, writing everything I will do on a given day and checking off the items as I go. At these times, I will often add times to each item so my day is a series of overscheduled minutiae. At other times, a 43-day-old To-Do list languishes on a napkin in my purse or a neglected app on my phone and I’m flying by the seat of my capri pants, doing everything or nothing as the mood strikes me and forever missing deadlines in a house that looks like the seven dwarves’ cottage before Snow White kicked their butts into gear.
Recently I got honest with myself and realized I was spending too much time at the dwarves end of the To-Do spectrum and I needed to dig myself out before summer vacation steamrolled me. There was no squeaky-voiced princess coming to set me straight so I had to figure out my problem and come up with a solution.
My first thought was to re-engage my crazy sauce rigid To-Do list. It includes every cleaning chore in my home, scheduled out in recurring To-Do items on a never-ending list. It also includes personal care practices and everything I wish I would do ever if I were a completely perfect mother, wife, writer, volunteer, pastry chef, and magical enchantress of eternal awesomeness. It is an undoable list of DOs. It depresses me. On the days I complete it, I am a B-A-D W-O-R-D to my husband, kids and friends because SoHelpMe I WillCompleteEverySingleItemOnTheListOrDieTrying AndGetOutOfMyWay.
Not being an evil wench to my family has never made it on the list.
On the days when I do not complete the list, which are approximately all the days, I am either rude to everyone and then feel like a failure, a jerktastical failure, or I am nice but carry around a vague feeling of dread and uselessness, like if I look at the list it will ruin my niceness and confirm my waste-of-spaceishness.
Yeah. The LIST was not the answer.
But if I didn’t write down the really important things, I knew I wouldn’t do them. That’s when I got the idea to declutter my To-Do list. I took the list and deleted everything that wasn’t crucial to the success of the following day. Then I came up with a plan:
Steps for Winning the To-Do List Battle
1. Create a list of daily routines and goals. Look at it weekly to remind yourself what your typical day should try to look like. Do not obsess over this and do not make it a checklist.
2. Keep a dated list of important and out-of-the-ordinary things that you want to accomplish on specific dates. This list should be SPARSE and you should select action items while looking at your calendar to see if you can realistically accomplish them. Look at and finalize this list for the following day before you go to bed, in the morning when you wake up, and several times throughout the day to keep yourself on track.
3. As you think of things you’d like to accomplish that don’t have a specific due date, add them to the bottom of your dated list with no date attached. Each night as you plan for the next day, see if you have time to add one item from the undated list to the following day’s tasks. If not, forget about it.
4. Start a Done List. Whether in your head or on actual paper or pixels, take a moment to recognize the small things you are accomplishing. This keeps you focused on success rather than failure and knowing you get credit for doing small things will motivate you to do more of them.
The Done List is the most important component of this plan. If I have one or two things I must accomplish in a day, I can likely do them. Then everything else is bonus. When I finish eating, I try to load my dish, even if all of my dish’s ancestors are filling the sink and counter tops. While I’m at it, I load a couple of the most recent dishes from the pile and fill the sink with water so the others can soak. Bam! Add that to my done list. I am a hero for doing these things, rather than being a slacker for not doing more.
This is especially crucial if you’re working long hours. Don’t let your evenings or weekends at home turn into never-ending drudgery. Tackle the things that MUST happen for life to continue in your home. Then let the rest go. Then pick it up again as you have the time and inclination to do so.
For example, during my shower, I get bonus points for scrubbing down the walls in the stall. I revel in my awesomeness and decide I might scrub down the floor of the shower the following day if I feel like it. While I’m dressing, I use my pajama shirt to dust a few surfaces in my room before tossing it in the hamper. Going through my email, I delete today’s junk mail and a few pieces from further back in my overwhelming inbox.
These are Drops of Awesome. Record them. For the summer of 2014, let your To-Do list look like this:
Put all the nit-picky garbage on your Done List. If you do it. And then throw yourself a party.