I have a love/hate relationship with to-do lists. As an organized, goal-oriented person, there is little more satisfying than checking off item after item: Done! Done! Done! But, on the other hand, as an extremely busy person, there is little more frustrating than looking at my list of goals and realizing that I’m not going to finish nearly all of what I need to do, and just forget what I want to do. Then I feel worthless. I mean, how hard is it to wash a load of towels, scrub a couple toilets, and unload the dishwasher? And if I can’t take care of my home, then why should I get to indulge in my favorite vice–a good book? Those items that aren’t checked off mock me; they nag. So I get discouraged and quit making lists. But then I forget about the toilets. I know there’s something I needed to do. . . what was it? Okay, make a list again. Just a little reminder–no pressure. Then I end up with sticky notes all over the place and scraps of paper–reminders to check my reminders. And don’t forget the alarm on my iPhone. I have a series of alarms that go off during the day, telling me to wake up, pick up my son from school, go to the doctor, and so on. (But just in case I can’t remember why the alarm is going off, there still might be a little slip of paper with early dismissal 11:00 A.M. written on it).
Are all my lists and reminders and alarms just bits of refuse that get in the way of actual living? Are they wasting the time I’m supposed to be saving by making them to begin with?
Recently, I got fed up with all the work with comes with. . . you know. . . being an adult. Worn out from going to bed too late and getting up at 4:30, one bit of advice I get quite often is to get a nap when the boys do. But that’s usually not an option. Naptime is when I do all the things I can’t do when they’re awake. I mean, I guess I don’t have to change the cat’s litter box. . . but ignoring it for too many days in a row is just plain gross, and cleaning it when my touch-everything-and-put-it-in-his-mouth toddler is up and about qualifies as both gross and unhygienic.
My pattern was to come home, put the boys down, then get to work. I had a mental list, even if I didn’t have a written one. With so much to do, I often ended up frustrated; if I was able to sit down at all, there was little to no time left to write. Yes, I realize I sound selfish. But there remains the fact that, if I’m going to make a living writing, I have to be able to actually write and not just complain about never having the time to do it. (Although I probably could make a living complaining if I dressed like trash and let a camera crew follow me around all day; it seems to work for enough other people.)
So over the past couple weeks, I’ve changed my methods slightly. That handy little timer on my iPhone became my friend in a new way; it saved me from completely frustrating myself with chores. Whether it’s true or not, I believe there’s something to working in concentrated increments. If I know I only have ten minutes or thirty minutes or whatever it is, I become more focused. So I allowed myself half an hour to write, then half an hour to do chores. Or if I had a specific goal, like editing a chapter, I made myself do a chore as soon as I was done with that chapter. Done and done.
This weekend is the big test because we’re moving. The condo that we never thought we would leave—they would have to bury us under the patio, and we would haunt the residents who came after us—is about to be a part of Cotchaleovitch family lore. We put it on the market, figuring why not? No one’s going to want it, anyway, not in this market. We knew we would have plenty of time to save money for a new place, look for said new place, and continue to regret buying the condo almost seven years ago while we waited. But twenty-one hours after we put a sign in our window, we got an offer. Not just a bite, a real offer. Thomas and I walked around in disbelief for the rest of the day. Talk about wrecking an organized person’s day. But it’s a good kind of wreckage.
Now, weeks later, we have a house. Less than a week after seeing it for the first time, we were in a property manager’s office, signing papers. Thomas and I really never thought this would happen. We dreamed about it, sure, but we couldn’t actually imagine moving. Nor did we want to face the amount of work it takes to move.
It’s overwhelming to look around and not know where to start. This is where a to-do list comes in handy. I only wish the list would do the hard stuff for me. It doesn’t go to work or exercise or take care of the kids, after all. I still have to do those things, plus pack, too. Oh, and change our address, get the power turned on—all those little things that people would rather forget about but cannot, ultimately, ignore. Fortunately, when I moved in 2004, then again in 2005, and finally in 2006, I got fed up with trying to remember all the places I had to inform and call that I made a list and squirreled it away, finding it again a week or so ago—a to-do list that is actually worth something, and that something is my time. I’m sure I would have thought of everything on that list eventually, but each item would have come to me in the middle of the night, stealing my sleep and making me paranoid about forgetting before morning.
So I looked at my list and figured out which things were most important, like forwarding the mail and turning on the electricity and water. I’ve gotten through maybe half the list, which is slow-going for me, but I think it’s actually an improvement over what I think of as my natural Martha-ness. And I’m not stressing, either; I won’t allow it. It’s all spelled out, and I’ll get to everything on there in the next week or so. As for the packing, that has more of a deadline. But as with splitting my time between household chores and writing, I’m spending tiny bites of time for me (like this blog) and then spending a little more time packing. (When crunch time comes, I’ll be all about packing and moving, of course.)
This week’s chapel leader at my son’s school quoted the Bible verse below, and it was just what I needed to hear when I felt particularly bogged down by thirty hours of things to do in a twenty-four hour day. In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul wrote, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:10) How refreshing to think that there’s a plan for me, and I’m not required to check anything off on a list to follow it—or to be a worthwhile person.