Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Life and the To-Do Lists

I love mornings. I know I’m in the minority on this one. Starting my day with a run, some good reading, and tinkering in the garden while the horses are eating is the best way to begin for me. I try to do all this before anyone else in the house has rolled out of bed. This means my mornings begin about 5:30am. I hear you groaning.

Without this time to center myself each day I feel scattered. There is entirely too much to do on any one given day. Many people I encounter tell me that they’d like to do the whole food-organic-healthy thing but there just isn’t the time. Perhaps. Or perhaps it’s a matter of organizing the time you have. When you have a free moment – what do you do? In these rare times I can find myself feeling like a deer in the headlights – my brain fragmenting in too many directions, overwhelmed by the myriad of things I should be doing. To overcome this I depend on my lists.

It’s taken awhile and my system is always evolving but I depend on three lists. My daily have-to-do-today-list, my this-week-sometime list, and my all-the-things-I’ll-do-someday-list. I’d like to tell you that I keep these lists in a nice leather bound journal with tabbed sections and highlight flags, but in reality these lists are on scraps of paper and junk mail envelopes on my counter. My All-the-things-I’ll-do-someday list is on my palm pilot so that I can survey it in waiting rooms or in the car when practice runs over or traffic comes to a standstill. The weekly list might have as many of 15 things on it and is composed sometime between Sunday afternoon and Tuesday morning when I realize I don’t have one yet. I keep it on my desk or under a stack of papers, somewhere where it won’t harangue me but where I can find it when I need it.

The critical list is the daily have-to-do list. I write it out each morning while I’m having my tea. I never place more than 4 or 5 things on my have-to-do list. I’ve come to realize that I can only really be sure of getting 4, maybe 5 things done on a given day, even less if there are needy children, animals, or heaven forbid, housework that distract me. If I get everything on my daily list done, it’s a banner day and I’ll look to my weekly list. The items on the weekly list slowly migrate to the daily list. All the things on the master list eventually move to the daily or weekly lists or they continue to nag at me electronically for months until they seem irrelevant and I delete them.

Here’s today’s have-to-do list: make bread, cut stevia to dry, clean the kitchen, call someone to get a ride for my son on Thursday, and make granola. Those are the things I will get done no matter what. That list is manageable. Sure, I know there are about a million other things that need to get done, but I’m only one person. Life seems much more manageable when I can cross off everything on my to-do list.

It’s taken time to become realistic about the list. For many years the list was pages long and I lamented all the things left undone at the end of the day. I know I wasted huge amounts of time stressing about what I needed to do and beating myself up for not doing it all. This system is kinder to my soul. It works for me. Find a system that works for you. But have a manageable plan. That’s my best advice when it comes to making time to create the life you truly want. Break it down in to manageable changes. Pick one thing you want to start doing and sort out the time for it. That doesn’t mean you won’t do all the other worthy things, just that you won’t do them today.

Putting things in to a manageable arrangement is truly the key otherwise you risk becoming discouraged and eventually immobilized by the impossibility of it all. I’m an avid reader but my stack of books to read was threatening to engulf me. There was never going to be time to read them all and yet I continued to accumulate more books on the pile. My solution was to read a whole bunch of them at once. Each morning I read a paragraph or a chapter out of as many as I have time and the mood for. I’m slowly working my way through them. But at least I’ve started. I underline and make notes in them as I go so that I can go back and look over what moved me or to remind myself why I’m reading a given book if I’ve left it to the bottom of the pile for awhile. So far this year I’ve finished at least 10 books this way. Here’s what I’m reading now:

Awakening The Soul: A Book of Daily Devotions edited by John C. Morgan (quick thoughts that can provoke some journal writing)

Dropped Threads: More of What We Aren’t Told edited by Carol Shields and Marjorie Anderson (powerful life stories from women writers – they haunt me)

Writing to Change the World by Mary Pipher (one of my favorite writers – motivates me)

Doorways to the Soul: 52 Wisdom Tales from around the World edited by Elisa Davy Pearman (makes me reflect)

Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar…..Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein (makes me laugh and think)

Essays and Poems by Ralph Waldo Emerson (to be honest, there are a lot of mornings I can’t keep my eyes and brain open for this one, but it’s been a goal of mine to read. Might take more than a few years)

I started this post planning to share my newest discovery – recipes for breakfast (granola and instant oatmeal), but somehow I digressed. Big surprise. So I’ll post them on Thursday when I tell you the sad tale of our tomatoes. OK, you’ve wasted enough time reading this blog – go get something done.

1 comment:

  1. Reading and to-do lists.

    I now knit 4 rows before I leave for work in the morning - even if I'm running a bit late. It is very soothing, my time, and helps me make progress on big items. I was inspired by seeing my sister take a few minutes every morning to read while she has her breakfast - easier now that everyone is out of the house, but she leaves for work at 7am.

    Re To Do lists - being one of those people who will put something on a list just to cross it off - I love lists.

    Learned something very important from my paster many years ago in the midst of a major family crisis. He said - do the one thing that is truly important for you today - not what everyone else thinks is necessary.

    That meant that I stayed up very late talking with my brother in Seattle (he was dying), and everything else had to fall into place around those conversations.

    I've since modified it slightly - So I often have 3 importants: work - what is the one important thing - usually a conversation with someone. Personal - call the bank, doctor,etc. Volunteer/community - finish a draft of something, send a news update (this stuff always goes last - because it isn't life or death).

    Lots of stuff can wait - people can't.