The other day I finally I figured out the source of much of my stress. It’s something so simple that you might roll your eyes at me when I tell you what it is. But it dawned on me while I was loading the dishwasher.
I was staring at the sink, annoyed that I couldn’t fit that one last cup and bowl into the dishwasher. If I could fit those in, and if I could find ten more minutes to get those pots cleaned, and if I could manage to wipe down the sink, I’d be done. Finished. Something would actually be accomplished around here.
But I had run out of time and space. So my task was unfinished. And I felt unaccomplished because I couldn’t check it off my list.
This small thing annoyed me and frustrated me more than it should have. Why? Why was this small, silly thing so bothersome to me?
I leaned against the sink, sucking down my iced coffee, looking at the dishes, and holding my list of to-dos in my other hand.
And then BOOM. It hit me.
My to-do list was sabotaging me. It was making me feel stressed out and like a big failure. And there was an easy fix I could implement right away.
But let me back up. I do have a system and it does (usually) work really well.
Truthfully, I have several to-do lists. I used to have one, huge, loooooong list that was immensely stressful to look at. I kept it on the computer in my iCloud notes so it would sync across my laptop, phone, and iPad. The syncing was nice, but the list was scary and stressful.
So I changed my system. I went back to using my trusty notebook and I broke my to-do list into several master lists: Home, Kids, Work, Blog, Personal. One on each page of the notebook.
On Sunday night of each week (ideally) I make a single, less overwhelming list of to-dos for the week. I’ve found this to be WAY less stressful for me, and keeps me out of my habit of endlessly going over each of the lists, wondering what I’m forgetting. If it’s not on the week’s list of to-dos, I’m not thinking about it. Done and done.
I’ve been doing two major things wrong:
1) I add things to my master lists that are, by nature, things that will never, ever, ever be done. Like doing laundry. Washing dishes. Yard maintenance. House cleaning. Putting away laundry. (And am I the only one who has baskets of clean laundry that sit around the house for weeks on end?)
2) I add things that are enormous projects that will never get done in one sitting. Like sorting through a year’s worth of school papers. Creating my media kit. Culling through and printing all our pictures from our 2013 Disney trip.
So what am I doing about it?
Making more lists, of course.
I have two new master lists: “Ongoing” and “Bigger Projects.”
And I’m being more realistic about what should go on those lists. For example, I wrote a blog post for another website and it took several sittings to finish it. I knew it would. So that post should have gone on the “bigger projects” list, because it wasn’t something I could get done in one day. Instead, it sat on my weekly list for several weeks in a row, stressing me out.
The Ongoing list? It’s got the tasks that need to eventually be attended to but will never be totally done: Laundry. Dishes. Yard work. House cleaning. It’s there just to remind me that those things exist. Maybe most people don’t need that reminder, but I do because my brain works like this.
If I really think I can accomplish a certain task related to one of those two new categories, I put it on my weekly list. Like “trim bush next to front door.” That’s a doable task. “Do yard work” isn’t.
So that’s how I’ve dialed down my stress and created a sense of control in my very out-of-control life.
What do you think? Are you a list maker? Do you like the idea of master lists and a weekly list? Would this kind of system work for you?
Note: This is a revised, previously-published post, so that’s why some comments are from a while ago. 🙂