Wednesday, May 11, 2011

what's all the *to-do* about?!?

In the beginning . . .

Here's the first decision you need to make about what works best for you. Paper? Notepad or Remember the Milk, or a similar app on your phone or computer? Perhaps Google's "Tasks". What about a simple Word document? You might even decide to go the route my hubby did, and use a small day-calendar. Decide where you can most effectively keep your to-do list. And although there's pros and cons for all of them, for me, the paper and pen option works best. I like the ability to think out what I'm going to do as I physically write it out. I sometimes can type without thinking (just scroll back through my blog entries and you'll understand -- LOL!), but writing out the words etches it more firmly in my mind.

If you do decide to go the pen & paper route, let me make some suggestions. Use a notepad that is spiral bound. It's nice to be able to keep up with days past. You have the instant ability to look back over the week, the month, whatever, and see what you've accomplished. Use lined paper. Lines help me stay structured -- or perhaps that's in my head. Go plain or pretty -- sometimes having a pretty little notepad to write in makes it more fun and special. Or is that just something we tell our kids?

Put the date *and* the day at the top of your page. Again, this is nice to be able to look back and see *when* you did what you did. Plus it may help you quickly identify routinely repetitive tasks, etc. Also, if you're like me--an empty-nester who stays home--it helps you keep track of what day it is. A lovely bonus.

The morning is the best time to begin your to-do list, although I'm certainly not suggesting that you plop out of bed and run for your pen & notepad (or whatever) and get cracking on that list. Most mornings I get up, do my quiet time, check my e-mail, make breakfast (and if it's a shift day, Todd's lunch), before I sit down with my cup of coffee and work on my list. But let me tell you a secret . . . I put all those things on my list anyway!

Yep. When I sit down with that second (or third) cup, the first things I'll put on that list are (though not necessarily in this order):

--Bible Study
--make Todd's lunch
--check email/facebook/twitter

And then when I've finished my list, I go back and cross off the completed items. Because this list is NOT just about remembering what I want to accomplish in a day, but about all that I accomplished in a day. Making breakfast, making/packing Todd's lunch, doing my Bible study -- those were all activities in which I invested my precious TIME. They are list-worthy activities, so I put them there. And then I take great pleasure in being able to cross them off!

[Note: I am in no way implying that my quiet/Bible study time is an activity that I do just to "cross it off" my list. I do include it on my list because it's an essential investment in my walk with Jesus, and as such, an integral part of my day. That makes it list-worthy to me!]

While I don't separate my list into different categories (I write down things as I think of them), I *do* sort of mentally categorize my activities into three areas.

1) The routine: making breakfast and lunch, general cleaning (dishes, sweeping, etc.), making the bed, take out trash, etc. You see what I mean. Things that I don't necessarily need to be reminded to do, but that are time-takers, nonetheless.

Let me 'splain why. Let's say these things *don't* go on your list. At ten-thirty in the morning you scan the to-do list you wrote at seven. There's not a single thing crossed off. It's gaining on mid-day, and NOTHING IS CROSSED OFF THE LIST! That can be extremely discouraging, especially if you feel like you've been going non-stop. That's right. You've spent your morning making beds, tossing in a load of laundry, unloading and loading the dishwasher (or, if you're like me, putting away dishes from the dish rack and washing a sink full of breakfast dishes), sweeping floors, making lunches, taking out the trash, carting kids to school . . . WHEW!! Put it on your list. Trust me, it's nice to see written evidence of where the time has gone! To me, the other (and perhaps more important) thing is this: routine task does not equal unimportant task. Adopt that philosophy real quick!

This is also how I'd classify my e-mail/facebook time. Not work-related computer time -- that goes in the next category.

2) The 'have-to's': like the doctor's appointment, or taking a pet to the vet, or your child's piano lesson. Or maybe, like me, you work from home and there are specific work requirements you need to meet in a day. It could even be something like, "make raspberry fluff pie" (which is on my list for today and has not been crossed off yet). I put these on the list because either they are tasks I definitely want/need to finish, or things I can't afford to forget. These items are truly the meat-and-potatoes of your to-do list, although they are not necessarily the bulk of your list.

3) The "potential" items. These are projects or tasks that I know are ahead of me, but I'm not sure I'll be able to fit them in today. Like I said yesterday, my to-do list is not a legalistic, "I can't go to bed until every item is checked," kind of list. It's a tool to benefit me, not an oppressive task master. I have no problem putting, "Clean out closet" on my list, knowing that I may or may not get to it, depending on the scope of items in categories one and two. I sometimes put question marks out beside these tasks, just to keep it clear in my head that they're potentials, not have-to's.

I wish I could sit here and tell you with a straight face that (1) once you've written out your to-do list, that's all you'll have to do in the day, and (2) that nothing ever happens to interfere with the completion of said tasks. I'm realistic enough to know that things crop up during the day that weren't on my list. You know what? I add them. And then I cross them off. If it means I can't get to one of those potentials, oh well. I knew from the get-go it would be that way.

As for the other, sometimes things happen in life that make the list completely insignificant. An emergency or crisis that makes even the most important things on your list seem menial. It happens. You know what? The next day, or the day after that, you can put it on a fresh page.

Okay. Next I'll share benefits of to-do list that will knock your socks off! Ummm, not really. But they are worth a read. Tomorrow. For now, I need to mark this off today's list.

And get busy on that raspberry fluff pie!


2 expressed . . .:

Debbie J said...

Very well written and good post! I have tried lots of styles of "to do lists". I like the little spiral notebooks, but also those 4X6 inch lined post it notes. They fit on a page of my planner and can be moved around or stuck to front of a book or on the fridge, etc.

Paula and Mel said...

I was late for class and now I missed the reaspberry fluff pie!
Very good post. I do use a spiral notebook. I never thought of adding my routine to the list. No wonder it never looks like have anything done and I move stuff to the next day. Sheesh! Today's list will look much better, thanks to you!