I dream of the day when I will methodically tackle each task on my to-do-list, crossing items off one-by-one, then feeling the great joy of accomplishment and lightness of being when I finish the last item on my list. Well, if you are a busy parent like me, this dream seems an impossible reality because, despite my best efforts, my list just keeps growing. The problem with endless to-do lists is that with them comes stress, anxiety and a feeling of being overwhelmed wondering, “How will I ever get everything done?”
After many years of list making, I have come up with several strategies that can help busy parents like me tackle their to-do lists and actually feel good, rather than stressed out, at the end of each day.
Here’s how . . .
Prioritize Your List
Take a good look at your list. What’s on it? Often it is more like a “wish list” than a “things I absolutely have to do list.” Cleaning out your closets or re-organizing your kids book shelves may be a nice idea, but they are not as necessary as getting food for dinner and they can be done at a time when you are less busy. So, the first thing to do to feel less stressed is to re-order your to-do list and place a star next to the things that must get done today. Go through your list and ask yourself, “What absolutely has to get done today?” The answer is often that very few items fall into that category.
When I do this, I find that there are usually only three or four things that must get done today and the rest can wait. With a new, shorter list of “must do” items, and a secondary list of “can do later” items, I feel much more confident, and less stressed, that I can actually get those “must do’s” done.
Cross Them Off Your List
When you do cross items off your list, take a moment to pause and give yourself a little appreciation for accomplishing that task. We don’t often get thanked for getting the groceries, paying the bills or cleaning up the many messes our kids make. So, guess what? You can send yourself a big “Thank you” for doing those often thankless tasks.
Our tendency is to be very hard on ourselves. We usually look at all that we didn’t get done each day instead of feeling really good about what we did get done. So, pause and take the time to appreciate your efforts and all that you do for so many people. Stop and notice how that feels. And when you cross an item off your to-do list, remember to pause for a moment and send yourself some much-deserved love and appreciation for all that you do each day. When you focus on what you did, instead of what you didn’t get done, you add a bit more joy and calm to your days, and you certainly deserve more of that!
Add To Your List
Oh no you didn’t just say to add to my list? Yes, I did say that. In fact, I want you to add at least one thing to your list each day (but more is great) that brings you joy, and mark it as a priority. We usually don’t find those items on our to-do lists. Instead, we are so busy getting things done for everyone else that we forget to do the one thing that will truly benefit our own health and wellbeing and that is to make time each day to do something that brings us joy, peace and happiness.
I don’t have time for that, you say. The best gift you can give yourself and those around you is a calmer, happier, and more present you. And when you are so busy running around, feeling frazzled and exhausted, doing everything for everyone else, you don’t bring your best self to your work or your home. Take some time to exercise, to meditate, to read a good book, to listen to your favorite music, to call a friend, to play with a child, to dance in your kitchen (one of my all-time favorites). Make it a priority. And, when you are doing it, be fully present. Put away your to-do list and sink deeply into the moment, allowing yourself to be there fully. Your to-do list will still be there when you are done, so let it go from your mind and accomplish the most important thing you can do all day and that is to enjoy the moment and allow that peace and happiness to be felt in your whole being.