I grew up in the dinosaur age of organization; there were no computers, PDAs, fancy apps or personal assistants like Siri to keep us on schedule and tidy. Sad to say, we had two options: an excellent memory, or pencil and paper. My mother (the quintessential queen of orderliness) was a fan of the latter method of keeping her bills under control and her home tidy, and despite my inexhaustible efforts at fighting this method during childhood, I now cling to it for my very existence today.
You will find no to-do list on my phone or computer, nor will you find my daily schedule on Outlook. Every single thing I want or need to do is written down on paper–the old school way. It is not only my preferred way of running my life, it is the one way I can keep myself truly sane in a world gone mad with allowing artificial intelligence to guide us. Another way to look at this is that I have serious control issues and do not fully trust computers. (We can touch base on that another time.)
Yet, one would think that with all the to-do lists and the “obvious” organization that they must bring, I would feel relaxed and calm. Nope. Not…even…close. I am a constant anxiety ridden stress bunny who determines whether or not the day was successful by how many “things” got crossed off my list. Any less than 70% and I must have been lazy–how dare I be so lackadaisical with my time? Or at least that’s how I used to be…
Frank Sonneberg once said, “Checking items off a to-do list doesn’t determine progress; focusing on your priorities is what counts.” Reflecting on this lately has made me re-think my good-ole to-do list and re-evaluate what I am actually doing with my time. What have I been doing that is getting in the way of scrubbing the floor, washing cabinets and pulling weeds? Examining further I found that I was actually doing things like: cooking a homemade meal for my family, talking to my son about his school day, spending time with my husband and–wait for it–relaxing. What? Relaxing? Spending time with my family? Cooking? How dare I do such things instead of checking things off that list! The list is important. The list keeps us organized. The list makes our house perfectly clean and presentable. The list is precious. (All spoken in the accent of Smeagol from “The Lord of the Rings.)
Nope. The list is a lie–at least in its current format. What I am beginning to learn is that the list, while necessary to actually remind me of what I need to do, can also serve as a task master that keeps me from my emotional and spiritual priorities. The only things I have ever put on my lists were physical tasks, quite literally things “to-do.” There were never things like “cook dinner, read a book or spend time with family” on them.
WHY NOT? Are those things not important–are those things not my priorities? Certainly not, but in a day and age where we schedule everything and everyone, we really should take the time to appreciate what we have accomplished. So in my efforts to correct the “feeling lazy” syndrome that I feel when I see an incomplete to-do list, I now have a “Completed” list. Here’s how it works:
When I write a to-do list, I write on the left column of my paper with the proper “TO_DO” heading. Then on the right I have a second column labeled “Completed.” Then I go about my day diligently crossing things off the left side. At the end of the day I re-visit the list and just when I feel my chest tighten and my brain start to call me lazy I grab a pen and write down everything else I did that day. My friends, this is when I have my “come to Jesus moment” and realize that I was not lazy at all. What I always end up seeing is that while I may not have gotten my house spic and span clean or my papers filed from 10 million eons ago, I did manage to make my mark on this world. I notice that I actually did things that people will remember 10 years from now: my son will never remember how clean the kitchen was but he will remember the conversations we had at dinner. My husband won’t recall how organized the pantry was but he will remember that I spent time rubbing his shoulders while watching TV. I will forget about the books strewn across the floor but I will absolutely remember how every character in those books made me feel.
Balance. It is all about balance. You will never find me ditch my precious to-do lists, but from now on you will definitely find that my lists now have more depth and meaning to them. Life is about living and loving–not just about DOing. I encourage all of you rethink your lists–adding yourself and your loved ones to them.
(Whew…there’s one more thing checked off my to-do list 😀 )