Is there life outside the To Do List?


I have always been a big fan of keeping a To Do List. After all, I always have a lot to do, and writing it down gets it out of my head, which is usually good for my sanity and helps me remember what I need to do. I also really enjoy the satisfaction of checking items off a list (is this just a personal problem?). I’m not sure that I’m ready to completely part ways with my dear friend the To Do List, but I am ready to stop it from running my life.

Getting stuff done isn’t bad in and of itself. After all, the house does need to be cleaned (living in filth is not healthy) and laundry does need to get washed (wearing clothes is not usually optional). The challenge is that I want my life to be about living, not about accomplishing tasks. I want time spent with my family, friends and God to be prioritized over the endless items on my to do list. Sometimes I’m good about this: my Thursdays with the boys I focus on spending time with them and do very little in terms of chores. Sometimes I’m pretty lousy at it though: I can get so obsessed with getting things done that it will stress me out when my husband is relaxing, and occasionally I’ll try to assign him something to do (I know… wife of the year, right?). When I’m in get things done mode, it takes over: I’m rushing around until late at night, and when I’m finally ready to relax, there’s no time left.

So I’ve decided that life comes first and chores come second. Life first to me means instead of jumping right into chores after the kids go down, choosing to spend some time relaxing with my husband. It also means keeping my multitasking in check. I’ve found multitasking to be a great survival tool for my life as a mom. However, if I’m always mixing fun time with work time, then I’m never fully in the moment because I’m distracted. So I want to avoid multitasking if possible, and when I do multitask, I want to stay focused on what my priority truly is. As an example, I was enjoying playing with Austin the other day, but when Austin wanted to play independently I felt like it was a good time for me to fold some laundry. However, when he wanted my attention again, I didn’t try to direct him back to independent play so I could finish the laundry (as I might have done otherwise); I just stopped doing laundry and resumed playing with him. I ended up finishing my folding later that night.

Choosing life first also means sometimes accepting “good enough” because getting it done just right is not worth the price. This one is particularly challenging for me because I have a tendency to make tasks into much more of a process than necessary. I’m sometimes thorough at the expense of efficiency. Perhaps it’s the perfectionist in me that just can’t cut corners. My mom laughs about my tendency to be one extreme or another– like having my books alphabetized but my room a mess (this was when I was younger by the way– no alphabetizing of books anymore!), which I think is driven by wanting to do it right or not at all. However, if I can just do a little here and a little there, things might not be up to my standard, but they might just be acceptable.

I’m also trying to keep chores from being such a chore. Most of the tasks I do, I don’t actually mind doing. They become exhausting and miserable when I allow myself to get burnt out. I find this happens when I don’t give myself the breaks that I need to refresh my spirit. I’ve been experimenting with taking breaks when I otherwise might not— being particularly cognizant of when I’m becoming burnt out. I’m trying to pay more attention to which activities actually help me relax and which activities I often categorize as relaxing even though they do very little to reduce my stress level. I was really surprised to find what a difference taking effective breaks made. I actually felt inspired to get things done after my break, did a better job, and got to things that I probably wouldn’t have gotten to if I was just dragging myself through my tasks.

Most of the time when I take a break I try to really focus on relaxing, but sometimes I feel up to doing a fun task and manage to get stuff done and relax at the same time. For example, when my kids are both asleep, I normally start thinking, “ok, what can I get done before they wake up?” However, when I do that, I have very little energy left to give to my kids when they wake up from their nap. So this weekend I decided to compromise, and I found a task that needed to be done but that was pretty relaxing— painting my nails. Don’t laugh now— they were getting pretty funky, and this was the perfect opportunity to accomplish something while still getting the down time I needed.

Another goal I have in this process is to avoid making things into chores that are not chores. When you live by a To Do List, you can find yourself wanting to list things on there that have no place on such a list. Maybe it’s just me, but putting something on a To Do List makes it seem like a chore. So I deliberately did not put “get a Christmas tree” on my To Do List because it should be a fun family event, not a chore. It’s not like I was going to forget to do it. Even if the list is just in my head, I think it makes a difference to keep fun activities fun in my head and not allow them to become just one more thing that needs to be done. Along the same train of thought, I’ve also tried to change how I think about my day. When I reflect back on my day, I don’t want the focus to be what I got done or didn’t get done. I want to focus on what I did that was meaningful.

As I work on changing my mindset, I am hoping to avoid unnecessary stress due to arbitrary deadlines. Case and point, we started our Christmas shopping for the boys, and then suddenly I felt like we had to have it all planned out and ideally purchased that day. Why? Arbitrary deadline set by a crazy lady (me). So I stopped the madness. This post was also supposed to be up no later than Sunday night, which is a good goal, but it wasn’t going to happen without more stress and less sleep and putting up a post that probably wouldn’t have been as swell as this one ;). I realized a one day delay would not be the end of the world, so I did what I could and then called it a night.

I’m even working on being realistic and knowing when to ask for help (nicely). For instance, we worked on clearing out our garage in anticipation of Austin’s arrival (and pregnant woman panic about how another child was going to fit into our condo), and in the process we removed some totes from the garage of various projects from my childhood that my mom had saved. I was supposed to take pictures of these items or scan them and then throw them away. I sorted through a tote and threw some stuff away, but then Austin came along, and now those totes are a lovely decoration in our hallway. I can say I’m going to get to them, but there are a million things that are a higher priority, so if I were to be realistic, I might have to admit that it’s not happening anytime soon. So I explained to Clint that as much as I’d love to keep those out of the garage, I don’t see myself having time to deal with them anytime soon, so we probably need to move them back into the garage unless he thinks it’s a project he is up to helping with (which he is considering). I’m also trying to remember to involve the kids in tasks where appropriate. They usually think it’s fun to get to do a project with mommy, it’s a good learning experience, and we can have fun together and get stuff done at the same time. Win, win.

All the issues I have can’t be fixed overnight, but I am continuing my mission to have my life reflect my priorities. Anyone out there have an unhealthy relationship with their To Do List? If you’re a recovering To Do List’er, do share your rehab experience and tips.

Happy Advent! Hope it’s filled with more peace and fewer chores.


3 thoughts on “Is there life outside the To Do List?

  1. I love this! Having a to-do list is both a blessing and a curse! I get so much more done because of my list, but sometimes its hard not to live by it. I have starting implementing more of a Sabbath feel for our Sundays. We usually have some media, because we like to watch a family movie in the afternoon, but I don’t clean the house or fold massive amounts of laundry and run around doing chores and errands. I make it more about spending time together. So, maybe a load might get done, but I don’t obsess over it.
    Sara recently posted…The photo dumpMy Profile

    • That’s a great idea Sara! We definitely need to do a better job of keeping the Sabbath. With us both working during the week, weekends end up being our time to get stuff done, but that’s such a lousy way to spend our only days together as a family and leaves us needing a weekend to recover from our weekend.

  2. Pingback: Jenn’s Tips (Vol. 7): Create a more peaceful and focused day with a schedule (7QT Vol. 4) | Little Silly Goose

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