I don’t know about you, but my life has been crazy lately. Well, it feels like that, anyway. You know what I’m talking about. You’ve got a to-do list humming along, and then everything falls apart because life hurls a bunch of unexpected events into your day. Sometimes I find the humor in it … sometimes I don’t. What I really don’t like, though, is the annoyance and disappointment I feel at night when I haven’t completed the things that really had to get done. I’m my own worst critic and I know it.
Most tasks on my daily to-do list benefit many people (work, laundry/house chores, errands, correspondence/bills). Some however, are only for myself (read, exercise, connect). When things get super jumbled and I’m short on time, it’s always the personal stuff that goes undone. I know I’m not alone in this. Lots of us are conditioned to put ourselves last in line, ranking the needs of other people higher than our own.
I know this behavior is maladaptive, but I haven’t figured out how to consistently change it. I’ve tried reading (both online and in print) about novel or effective approaches to a busy to-do list, but I will admit that all of this diligent research and planning is actually well disguised, time sucking procrastination.
So, after much trial and error, and with two caveats, here’s my current approach to the dreaded to-do list. If I follow this plan, chances are good that I will be able to fall asleep without feeling like the day was a complete failure:
Given that I will always err on the side of getting everyone else’s stuff done before my own, and given that any day’s to-do list grows longer as the day progresses, start each day by selecting the one thing that will be THE MOST upsetting to me if it doesn’t get done. Once chosen, make a mental to-do list and place it at the very top. Then, put The Universe on notice that this is the main objective for the day. (Don’t laugh – this is a very important final step.)
That’s it. Pick one thing that matters… put it at the top of the list… tell the Universe it’s at the top of the list… do it… cross it off… sleep with satisfaction.
Ok… I can hear your questions already…
Your system hinges on choosing tasks based on your feelings? What about everyone else that your to-do list affects? Don’t their feelings count, too?
True; I’m allowing myself to choose one thing that has to get done for MY feelings of daily accomplishment. Yes, I am putting my feelings first, and that is OK. Ultimately, I’m working to reduce my night-time feelings of failure that result from a poorly prioritized to-do list. Happy Mama, happy family. Frustrated Mama, unsettled family. My feelings are important.
Who can choose only ONE big thing? There are multiple weighty tasks on the to-do list each day.
You can. Yes, you CAN choose only one thing to top the to-do list. Of course there are other tasks to complete. No one is saying that you get to ignore everything else. But, once the main item is crossed off of the list, you can more calmly turn your attention elsewhere. The inability to prioritize ANYTHING on the to-do list, when EVERYTHING is screaming at you, is paralyzing. Choose one thing… just choose.
What about the tasks that repeat every week? Laundry never truly ends and trying to keep the front hall clear is Sisyphean. How do you approach these things?
While I can’t put a recurring task in the top spot all of the time, I do choose one frequently. Simply rank it as number one every now and then, and cross it off when complete. Don’t stress it. You’ll get another chance at it some other day, and you can always buy more underwear if you need to.
What about the things left on the to-do list at the end of the day? Doesn’t leaving stuff undone bother you?
It does. But, choose the positive spin… instead of thinking about the things you didn’t do, remember that you DID complete your main task. As far as what to do with the list leftovers, move them up the chain and then choose one to be the big thing the next day. I’ll admit that some never ascend and are marooned on the list for weeks. With this approach, though, my overall irritation is minimized. I know that any remaining items will eventually move up to the top of my list and be crossed off.
For perspective, here are some of my recent number ones in no particular order:
I will walk today for an hour.
I will start digging up the lovely, but aggressive, woodruff groundcover that’s taken over my garden.
I will pick up the clutter in the front hall.
I will go grocery shopping.
I will clear the “donate me” pile.
I will do some laundry.
I will go to The Girlie’s band concert.
I will watch Ink Master.
I will help my folks with their “to do” list for a few hours.
I will to go to Whole Foods and buy that amazing chocolate cold press coffee.
I will clean up the clutter in the front hall… for the millionth time.
I will vacuum the shag rug (ok, this almost never gets to the top of the list because it’s really hard to do, but I can’t put it off forever).
I’m happy to report that this new approach is working for me, so far. My attitude and stress levels have improved, and I am consistently getting stuff done. Most importantly, though, I’m not beating myself up at night when I’ve left to-dos on the list. That was the main goal of this new system… a number one task, itself.
Message of the Day: Don’t confuse a to-do list with a must-do mandate. There will always be things to do, and it’s ok if you don’t check everything off of your list by the time you go to bed. Choose one thing to accomplish each day that will result in self-satisfaction when completed. Make it your goal. Once you check it off, everything else will happen as it needs to. Start small to win big.
Message number two: Be nice to yourself. You need your sleep.
Message number three: Consider hiring someone to vacuum your shag rugs.