I am a list person. I have been making lists for just about everything for as long as I can remember. It must have started around 6 or 7 years old. My son is the same way. We are similar in many ways, in fact. Both of us are very ambitious, emotional, creative, empathetic, slaves to clocks, and perpetual list makers.
If there is any verse in the Bible that I live by more than another, it’s this:
“Teach us to number our days so that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
This is a natural occurrence for me, numbering days, and I only found this verse in the last year!
I have countdowns on my phone (and in my mind) for everything. Christmas this year, Christmas next year, the year of my youngest entering Kindergarten (she’s 1), the year of my oldest graduating high school (he’s 6), and I have a pretty hopeful guess of my future death (goal is OLD) but for that I never dared create an actual countdown. That would be ridiculous.
Combine all of these traits, ambitious, goal-oriented, time obsessed, and what do you have? A list maker.
I have been in the habit of making “To-Do” lists and checklists for decades (2 decades). I’ve been know to make “To-do lists” for making “To-do lists”!
But what I have noticed is that a “To-do list”, of any length for any purpose, seems to overwhelm me, and I often become immobile. I know that happens to many people and these are the reasons why I think it happens to me:
1.) Too much on the list
I am OVERLY ambitious, and while I have gotten a lot done in a days work before, I’m only human.
It’s unlikely, for example, that I could make all 3 meals, do all of the laundry, learn Korean, go vegan, and write a best selling book in a 24 hour period. … (yet a little piece of me whispers “Or is it?”)
2.) Too little time
As mentioned above (though a bit dramatic) I do tend to put very unrealistic expectations and time-lines on my “To-do’s”. Then I end up feeling completely crummy for not getting it all done!
3.) Too many “Goals” and not enough “Tasks”
There is a difference between a “Goal” and a “Task”.
A task will help get you to the goal, the goal is the end result of many completed tasks.
For instance, “Make $300 this week” is a goal. “Get in 1 extra hour of work today” is a task.
So. Since I have this issue with checklists, but I need to make a checklist, what has been my solution?
I call it, the “Anti-Checklist”!
I’m not sure exactly when or how it started, but I know it was sometime in the last year. I would beat myself up for not doing enough, and I began to combat that nonsense with writing out lists of what I had done.
Instead of staring at a list that has run me ragged and challenged my self-worth with it’s many unchecked boxes, I look at a list full of accomplishments!
Yes, I still make a version of a “To-do” list. I usually make a general one for all of the areas in my life at the beginning of the week (school, church, my kids, my husband, writing, etc), and then I put it away!
It’s an “At a glance” sort of list that I might take a peek at once a day, but when I look at what I’m actually getting done, and I focus on the fruit of the labor (or future fruit that I can feel through my exhaustion), that fuels me more than the unchecked boxes ever did and I know I’m doing my best!
Here are the steps I take:
1.) Make yourself an “At a glance” checklist
Write out a simple version of your weekly (or even as far out as 2 weeks), checklist. Focus on the main things you need to (or would like), to get done.
Try to keep it to one page (depending on the type of items your listing), and have a “Crock-pot” mentality about that list. Set it, and forget it! But know you’ll be coming back to it to check it’s progress, but it won’t be finished for a bit.
2.) Give yourself time
Do not sell yourself short on the amount of time you need for your “At a glance” list tasks to get done. If you have a deadline, prioritize it, but also remember you can only do so much. Do your best to get things done on time and allow yourself the time to complete tasks, however, recognize that you have human limitations! It takes more than 24 hours, to get fit, rich, and happy (especially considering you need 8ish for sleep).
Tip: If you notice at the beginning of the week that a few things will be late without any changes (school, a payment, a work assignment), make your superiors, the credit card company, and any others involved aware ASAP.
Prioritize the most important tasks (kids, church, school, etc) in the appropriate order (worrying about Chase should not come before turning in your paper for school or making sure your son has a ride to school on Thursday), and move on knowing you’re doing your best. Leave the guilt with the list and walk away!
3.) Track your accomplishments!
Keep track of everything you are getting done! I mean everything!
So often we go through the motions and we don’t even realize how much we are actually doing because it is simply apart of our daily routine. Then anything “Extra” that doesn’t get checked off of a list makes you feel bad, but yet you’re exhausted!
How is that possible?! That you got nothing done today but are so tired? Well, it’s possible that you might be suffering from an actual mental health condition (depression, bi-polar disorder, etc) that causes you to be unable to complete basic tasks and you feel tried without even moving, you have a physical health condition that causes you an inability to get stuff done and you also feel tired, or it’s very likely you did do a lot today and it has made you tired. You just didn’t realize it!
As soon as you start tracking what you do in a day, you’ll see where you can cut time, create more efficiency in your schedule (i.e “Oh .. I checked the laundry 9 times today, I gotta limit that”), and you’ll recognize what a boss you really are!
For instance, I might do 23 things in the first hour of the day that I didn’t really think about before I started tracking what I was doing. I may have sent my kids off to school, got them dressed, made everybody breakfast, changed 2-4 diapers (it happens), unloaded the dishwasher, checked my email, fed the cat, fed the dog, started the laundry, cleaned the litter, picked up the living room, you see what I mean?
These little tasks add up and recognizing their importance and your awesomeness for doing them, changes you perception of what you’re getting done and what is not getting done.
I usually stop tracking around noon because the list is already so full, and I feel so confident in what I’m getting done that I don’t need to list it anymore.
Not everyday is full of energy and motivation for me, so in addition to leaning on God and asking for extra help, listing what I am getting done helps fuel me to put more on the list. Seeing “Unloaded the dishwasher”, makes me think “Pretty good. But I bet I could take a quick look in the fridge and throw a thing or two out. That’s something else to add”. You see what I’m saying? It’s a positive way to remember you are in competition with nobody but yourself. I think, “What else can I get done?” or “How many things can I reasonably put on this list?” Even on a tired day it’s likely you’ll get a thing or two on there.
Positives to the “Anti-Checklist” method:
1.) Guilt free!
Looking at a list of what you have done, instead of a list of what you have not, helps all of that shame for “Not doing enough” keep from creeping in. Shut that shame down!
When you see what you get done in a day, you’ll likely be pretty impressed with yourself! It’s crazy how you can be doing so much and not even realize it!
3.) Fun to make!
This is actually really fun to make! I personally enjoy seeing what ways I can work in more “Me” time and less “Picking up the bathroom floor” time.
4.) Something to show for it!
As a woman and stay-at-home mom/student/writer, I can identify with the whole “What did you do all day?” question that so many women seemed to get asked.
I have noticed women are asked this question way more often than men, even when they work outside of the home.
Young in our marriage this question got asked, and I shut that down quick. Hand the person in question your list then give them your Starbucks order.
Mamma don’t play!
Since we grew and matured (and my husband now works from home), this question is a thing of the past.
You should also feel confident enough to not even answer this question, if it is very offensive.
This might even be something the negative side of you asks yourself. In that case, show yourself the list and go get your own Starbucks order (or Taco Bell, … or KFC … these are my treat places!). Shut it down!
I’ll post another blog on this issue (or many), I’m sure.
5.) Self worth improvement!
You are a rock-star woman and powerhouse person and this list will prove it. Make that list! Laminate it as a reminder to yourself if you have to. You get stuff done. You always have. You’re just now showing yourself.