I recently had an idea that transformed my accomplishments. Or at least my perceptions of my accomplishments, which, if I’m being honest, is almost as important as my accomplishments themselves. Sort of.
For a quick back story, my entire working adulthood has been plagued by a little thing called the “to-do list”. Maybe you’re familiar with this item.
As a working stiff, there is always more to do than time with which to do it. After devoting my best eight or more waking hours (depending on the day) to the “day job”, there is only so much time and energy left afterward to accomplish items to keep my personal life in balance. As the VP of Nutrition & Kitchen Logistics at Team Sorensen, that also means that after the day job, meal planning, prep, cooking, and clean-up all typically take place before my list can even be looked at.
Let’s face it, by the time all that is done (if I get to the dishes at all – we’re being honest, remember?), it is rare for me to have enough energy to do even one more productive thing.
So as I write my list throughout the week, my hopes and goals naturally drift toward … Saturday. That is the day I will get it all done. I will leap out of bed after a restful sleep, make a big breakfast for my husband and me, and jump immediately into my list, checking off items efficiently. By 5 p.m. my house will be clean and organized, everything will be filed, all communications and special projects will be done…
Are you laughing at me yet? If you’re not, you should be, because I am laughing at myself. I am chortling at how far from reality all that is.
Sometimes I am a fiery ball of productivity on Saturdays and blast through an impressive amount of to-dos. Sometimes, not so much.
Over the years I’ve learned a few things about how to handle to-do lists and the self-perception of them. One of them was a recent revelation. Here are the top three, the third being the recent addition.
It’s OK to not get the whole list done every day
This principle applies both to work and home life. The concept that there is more to do than time to get it done, I think, is pretty universal. I dare say most of us struggle with it. Realizing the truth of this has given me a great deal of mental freedom.
If I start out with a sizeable list of things to do, and work diligently on them throughout the day, making sure the time-sensitive items don’t get neglected, I can feel good about what I have accomplished at the end of the day. Even if I only got three items on a 13 item list done. As long as those were the most important, that makes for a productive day.
Spending time with people counts as productivity
I’ve become less social as I’ve gotten older. It pains me to admit it, but it is true. When faced with a daunting list of chores, I sometimes hesitate to commit to social activities because I feel so overwhelmed.
Through the counsel of friends and the advice from a good book I read this year, I have realized the foolishness of such thinking.
People > Tasks. Putting that into practice, while challenging, has also been liberating.
For example, if my dad calls me on Saturday afternoon for a spontaneous coffee date, the new me will be likely to drop what I am doing and meet up with him. I didn’t really want to sweep and mop the kitchen floor anyway. Besides, it’ll still be grimy when I get home, and the world is still spinning. The only difference is, I’ve now had a mocha and 30 minutes of delightful conversation with one of my favorite people in the world. I’ll call that a win.
The old me might have fretted and possibly said “no”, for fear of not getting enough done.
There is much more to be said about this topic. In short, cultivating and maintaining important relationships should be valued equally (if not more) to accomplishing tasks.
The third item lends itself to the second.
Add things you want to do, not just necessary items, to your list
This is the item I just implemented recently. My to-do lists have historically been full of nothing but chores. “Clean downstairs bathroom. Sort mail. File gigantic stack of papers. Organize insanely messy desk.”
Those are all things that really should be done if I want any hope of future productivity, or to not stress out when I look around inside my home. But those aren’t the things I want to do. I’m not Type A, nor do I have an obsessive need for my house to be spotless all the time.
I’d rather spend my free time doing things that are enjoyable to me. Like reading, going for a walk or run, doing social media, working on a creative writing project or having lunch with a friend.
So many times I hold my enjoyable pastimes hostage to my to-do list. E.g. “I can go for a walk once I wash the pots and pans, clean the bathroom and organize my desk.”
That’s fine I guess, but it has the high likelihood to squeeze the joy out of my weekend. I’m not saying I’ve decided to neglect my chores and let my house look like it belongs in an episode of Hoarders. No, thanks.
I am saying that I have given myself permission to add the enjoyable (and routine) things do my to-do list. Because let’s face it, I was going to do some of them anyway. But now, doing them suddenly becomes an accomplishment rather than a waste of time.
A few weekends ago, I added “read two chapters” of my current book and “make breakfast” to my list, along with a host of other chores. I was going to take the time to make breakfast anyway, so why not count that as something accomplished? And the reading; it felt great to do that, and be able to cross it off after getting it done. Without that, I probably would have just sputtered, gotten a few things done in an inefficient way, and ran out of time to do the reading I so wanted to do.
As it turned out, I got my reading in and still crossed off several less enjoyable jobs, and ended the day feeling much more satisfied.
Taking a more balanced approach to getting things done, valuing people as equal or greater than tasks and building in fun tasks seems way more effective at moving forward in all areas, not just the chores.