The Infamous To-Do List
“If you have never written a to-do list, you are missing out on one of civilization’s greatest achievements. To make one is nearly as soothing as a cup of tea, but to tick items off the list when completed is a feeling to delicious one might easily confuse it with actual cake. Consider putting “make a to-do list” on your to-do list for tomorrow.”
The Long-Lost Home by Maryrose Wood
Thus far I have unintentionally written almost exclusively about minimizing. So, today it’s time for some organizing! Let’s talk about something near and dear to my heart: LISTS! Specifically, the infamous to-do list.
I so love lists, I do, and maybe you don’t. But give me a chance, maybe I can convert you. One huge benefit of keeping a to-do lists is that once I’ve written a task down I no longer spend mental energy trying to remember it. It clears my mind. It also helps me utilize those little bits of time when I suddenly find myself not busy. I can look at my list, remember that I need to e-mail so and so, and take advantage of that fifteen-minute window.
I have a space on my weekly calendar page for a to-do list, so I just add new reminders to the appropriate week whenever they come to my attention. When my husband and I were planning our wedding I was inundated with details and, naturally, transferred every single one of them to my calendar so that I didn’t have to reserve head space for them anymore. The result worried my then fiancé, who glanced at my calendar the week of our wedding and said in alarm, “You put washing your hair on your calendar?!?!” Looking back, I laugh and understand the horror he must have felt. He was probably wondering if he’d made the right choice of a life partner. But, when the friend fixing my hair told me to make sure to wash it the day before our wedding so it wouldn’t be too clean or too dirty on the day of the wedding, I was sure I’d forget. So, I wrote it down and it got washed on the appropriate day!
I am naturally an over-achiever and perfectionist. Don’t tell me not to keep track of when I clean my house, just to do what’s needed when it’s needed. I will then want to clean my house daily because it always looks like it’s needed. For me, a to-do list actually decreases the amount of time I spend “to-doing.” If I decide that once a week is reasonable for bathroom cleaning, then I don’t let myself think about it after I’ve crossed it off. I can know I cleaned sufficiently and take my kids on a bike ride.
I had one creatively-minded person tell me that she created a 4×4 grid for her to-do list. She kept several of these pinned to a bulletin board and added tasks to the next available square. When she had a spare moment, she would accomplish whatever task most appealed to her at the time, but she couldn’t move on to a new grid until all 16 squares of the first grid were completed. This kept her from totally avoiding unpleasant responsibilities.
Whether you use sticky notes, grids, or a traditional list, it is important that you have some method of making sure things get done. Here are some things to keep in mind:
Be Reasonable: It might be nice to have sparkling bathrooms every day of the week, but is that sustainable for you? A to-do list should be an aid, not a guilt-trippy stress-inducer. Most of my cleaning is either on my list weekly or monthly. Bathrooms get cleaned every week, showers get cleaned once a month. Once a task is completed, I simply flip the appropriate number of weeks ahead and add it to another to-do list.
Be Realistic: If I don’t have time in a given week to complete a task, I take a realistic look at the next few weeks and move the task to the next appropriate week. Sometimes this means that something gets shifted by as much as a month. Better to be realistic than to constantly feel stressed about what you’re not getting done. When I get sick I’ll often move everything that is not absolutely necessary to the following week so that I feel like I have time to rest and heal.
Prioritize: There are some things that must be done at my house or life as we know it will grind to a halt: grocery shopping, meal prep, and schoolwork to name a few. Other things can wait if need be. The world will not end if I enjoy a hike instead of cleaning my bathrooms. (I just realized that I mention cleaning bathrooms a lot. Not my favorite task, I must say, but I hate to have icky bathrooms. Sigh.)
Minimize (my favorite word!): Evaluate the tasks you’re asking yourself to complete. Do you actually like the jeans that need a new button? Is a yard sale going to earn enough to make it worth your time? Do you need to attend both the baby shower and graduation party this weekend, which requires you to buy two gifts and make one appetizer?
Tell me your tips for organizing your time (with or without the assistance of a list). I’d love to hear them!