I want you to banish the word busy. Seriously, it doesn’t serve any of us to run around feeling like we have too. much. to. do. Instead, I’d love to help you feel productive.
When you’re busy, you’re panicked. When you’re productive, you accomplish more because you’ve raised your expectations for yourself. As a result, you get to actually do things for yourself.
This is how I accomplish everything I need to – including working out and taking care of myself – AND get to throw away my to-do list.
Make the commitment. Get off the bike.
First, you have to accept that getting your life in order is going to take some time. But the truth is, the less time you invest in getting yourself organized, the longer it will take to get things done. And the worse you’ll feel while you’re doing it.
So, I want to offer you the metaphor of riding a bike in a huge hurry because you have to get somewhere. A car would be faster. But to get in the car, you’d have to stop, and get off the bike. No one who’s riding the bike in an all-out panic to get somewhere wants to stop. Yet, we can all agree that it will almost certainly be faster to stop and get in the car. It’s the same with organizing your time in advance. It seems like it takes too long to be productive. However, the time you save when you know what you need to do pays off in spades.
Pour everything onto your to-do list
If you’re anything like me, you’re crap at making a to-do list. Most of us rely on a to-do list to organize the top-of-mind jumble in our head that we need to dump out of our brain when our brain is full to overflowing.
Maybe if you’re good at a to-do list, you look at your day or your week, orient yourself toward what you want to accomplish, and then write out the steps to get there.
What I want you to do is actually one step past that. Especially if you’re a busy mom, work from home, or organize tasks around several different areas of your life (like various committees, volunteer organizations, groups, etc.), you need to get all those things onto ONE list.
The first time you follow this process, just writing out your to-do list could take an hour. Write out every single little thing you can think of: scheduling appointments, household maintenance tasks, errands to run, work projects and their steps, literally everything. Most importantly, add your own self-care to the list. How many workouts, at which times, and on which days? When you think you’re done, write 5 more things. Your list should be enormous when you’re done.
Looking at your list, start to number it according to priority level. By priority here, I mean importance not urgency. Some things may be both important and urgent. But, as anyone can tell you, if you don’t do the important things first, there will always be more urgent things that take their place – which is a fantastic recipe for not achieving the things you care most about.
For me, the things that reach the top of my priority list are the things that only I can do, and that matter most to me. For example, cooking dinner is not on my priority list; my husband can do that, and if he can’t, Chipotle or Publix can. However, I do prioritize cuddling with my daughter at bedtime every night and taking care of my body with exercise; no one else can do those things for me.
As you’re organizing your list, you’re going to have to accept that you simply will not be able to do everything. That’s life. Would you rather do more poorly, or do the things you care about well?
Put it on your calendar
Once you have a prioritized list, start at the top and begin to schedule out your week. You’ll notice one hitch in this plan right off the bat: You have to know how long things are going to take.
This is where you have to be ruthless. You decide how long you’re willing to give something, and then you treat that commitment like a sworn oath. If you decide to give your workout an hour, and you discover that it takes longer than you thought to get to the gym, you still only take an hour total (and you learn to plan better the next time).
You’ll notice I said “how long you’re willing to give something,” not “how long it will take.” If you allow things more time, they will take more time. Take, for example, every college kid who’s ever crammed for an exam. If they had given themselves more time, then studying for the test would have taken more time. Rather than allowing yourself to get up to the deadline, you can decide in advance how long you want to spend on something, and then keep that commitment.
I recommend putting everything on a digital calendar. This allows you flexibility to shuffle and shift while you’re planning your week. Plus, you can add recurring commitments – like writing on this blog each week. And, it’s satisfying to delete each task on your calendar when you complete it and be left with a blank screen at the end of the week.
THROW AWAY your to-do list
Inevitably, not everything on your list is going to make it to the calendar. (If it does, I can guarantee your list wasn’t long enough.) Now, this is where we get your brain involved. You’re going to decide that the other things on that list DO. NOT. MATTER.
Throw the list away.
That’s all there is to it. If something is that important, you will be able to think of it again next week when you repeat this process. The first time I ever did this process, I put dusting the ceiling fan on that list. It didn’t make it to the calendar. And then it didn’t make it from the list to the calendar for two more weeks. Finally, I decided it clearly wasn’t that important to me and I could let go of ever dusting the ceiling fan. I was able to look at the ceiling fan dust with joy and silently tell it, “I don’t care about you!”
I know it seems inconsequential, but throwing away the list matters. This is where you send yourself the silent signal that you are NOT going to do those other tasks, so you can focus on what is on your calendar instead of what’s not.
When the stuff hits the fan
When I talk about this with moms, they always ask me: Well, what about if my kid doesn’t nap when they’re supposed to, or gets sent home from school with a fever, or, or, or…
My answer is this: Build in flexibility. Just as I prioritize my own self-care (ahem, and you should, too) and put it on the calendar first, you can put your family’s needs on the calendar first, too. For example, when I was breastfeeding my daughter and working from home while my mom babysat, I would put an hour of nursing on my calendar every few hours. No, nursing didn’t really take an hour, but it gave me some wiggle room if she needed my attention at some other point. Plus, having it on a digital calendar allowed me to drag and drop that appointment a little earlier or a little later and move other tasks around it.
Plus – and this is where this really start to shift your mindset – when you’ve organized your time in this way, if there is an emergency, you can make an informed decision. Rather than saying yes whenever someone needs your help, you can look at your calendar and decide whether or not what you’re being asked to do is more important than what you had planned. If you’re anything like most of my clients, helping someone else is almost always more important (a conversation for another day). But, you can look at your calendar and make the decision to let go of the anxiety, stress, or resentment that you would otherwise feel if you had a million other to-dos spinning through your mind while helping someone else.
In fact, organizing your time in this way allows you more ability to help others (if that’s your priority) rather than less, because you’re planning ahead. And in future, you can ask yourself, “should I have planned for this?”
Of course, ideally, YOU always rank at the top of your priority list. If you need help making that happen, let’s schedule a free wellness consultation.