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Reigning in my to-do list

Categories: Hacking Life, Making Time, The Juggle, Uncategorized, Working? Living?


Yesterday, I felt defeated by my to-do list.

I slogged through it, item by item, until my eyes were crossing and I was desperate for a break. But by then it was time to head home, and the list, with so many lines still not crossed off, taunted me for my entire commute.

Until I turned in to my driveway and realized that at least half of the things on the list were things I wanted to get done, but couldn’t possibly do at work.

Sure, I wrote down a couple of things I’d already done that morning and crossed them off a nanosecond later (put gas in the car? Check!). But the laundry? Thawing the meat for dinner? Vacuuming the family room? How could I possibly get those things done? Just putting them on my plate was setting myself up for failure — or, at least, for feeling like one.

I inadvertently sabotage myself like this all the time. Often, it’s via my to-do list; in addition to expecting the impossible, I also tend to list things that I want to get done sometime in the near future but can’t realistically get done that day (like the six things I need to do to complete a project that’s due in late April, for instance). But other times I sabotage myself¬†by thinking I haven’t done any work when, really, I’ve been working non-stop.

I did that just this morning, in fact.

While driving in to the office, I glanced at the clock and wondered how I could have been up for more than four hours already and still have accomplished nothing.

But… I’d actually done a lot with my day already. I’d gotten the kids dressed and fed, their lunches and their school bags packed, and taken them to school. I’d dropped off the dry cleaning, picked up the other dry cleaning, and gone to the bank. I’d cleaned out my (totaled) minivan, signed it over to the insurance company, and extended the contract on the car I was renting. And then I’d started in on my commute. Just because those other tasks weren’t part of my paid jobs doesn’t mean I didn’t get any work done.

When I got to the office, I started writing out my to-do list, as usual. But this time I listed all of the unpaid work I’d already done this morning, and added only the things that I a.) really need to do today and b.) could actually do while at work.

And you know what? The already-completed tasks outnumber the things I have left to do. So instead of feeling defeated, for the first time in a long while I actually feel ahead of the game.

How do you reign in your to-do list?

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2 comments so far...

  • I reign in my to-do list by getting things done that NEED to get done and, as you said, stop looking for balance. I have to decompress at night after the kids are in bed, so I’ve stopped putting things on my list that I could only accomplish if I stayed up until midnight every night. A girl needs her sleep! And her American Idol! I do resent, however, trying to explain to my husband the minutiae of my day sometimes - so I’ve stopped doing it.

    Daily Cup of Jo  |  March 12th, 2010 at 9:34 pm

  • I went through a stage when I would put less-than-impressive things on my list just to get the pleasure of marking them off. That was during a time of great stress and it was helpful to get me past the “I suck” phase I was in.

    Nowadays, I don’t have a to-do list other than my email inboxes, Outlook calendar, and a small stack of paperwork that I try to prevent from growing roots and shooting up to the sky.

    For me, the better strategy is to work on developing a routine that gets things done without too much minute-by-minute decision-making or prioritizing. A sort of big-picture framework of priorities that determine the order in which I do my daily work (paid and unpaid). If that makes any sense. I generally don’t finish everything I aspire to do each day, but I can usually tell myself that if I couldn’t do it, nobody else could either, so oh well. Generally there isn’t anything undone at the end of the day that is going to ruin my career or relationships.

    SKL  |  March 14th, 2010 at 1:24 pm