As a New Year dawns, our attention naturally turns to the blank pages in the calendar ahead. The weeks after Christmas are often a calm and quiet time to clean up, reflect, and prepare for new opportunities. Some of us might still be lingering in a post-holiday haze, and others are chomping at the bit to make good on their New Year’s resolutions. Either way, most of us cringe at the idea of jumping back into a schedule that is too hectic, or a routine that feels chaotic.
One way to maintain a sense of calm and order is to more be realistic with our expectations of ourselves. There is one simple key to writing an organized and achievable to-do list at the start of each day: Time.
First let’s talk about how I used to make a to-do list, which is not the right way!
As evidenced above, the blank lines in my planner used to be an open invitation for me to spill the contents of my spinning brain. My to-do list would be made at the beginning of the day and would contain ALL of the things I needed (and wanted) to do. I knew better than to plan, say, an IKEA trip and a closet purge-fest in the same day, but I had a hard time understanding exactly how much I was capable of getting done in one 8-hour period of time.
Only one thing is needed to bring a chaotic to-do list like this under control. Write out the hours of the day BEFORE you write out your to-do list. Then, when you do make your list, you will quickly visualize the time each task is going to take, and understand what must be cut and what must be prioritized. You’ll also realize you have hours of the day that are not “free” or usable for your task list, such as when you are preparing dinner for your family, or when you are feeding yourself or showering.
See the difference?
It changes everything when you plan your day according to time rather than tasks.
When you write the hours first, then assign tasks to hours listed in the day, it is immediately obvious that:
a) Some hours are already full (making dinner, putting kids down for naptime, etc.)
b) You won’t have time to do everything you want to do
c) You will have to prioritize
In the case of the day above, my wish list would have included writing thank-you cards and organizing ornaments. When it became obvious there wasn’t time for both, I quickly prioritized writing cards and moved ornaments to the next day.
The long-term benefit of this daily exercise is that you learn to prioritize big things, in addition to small. What’s important comes more sharply into focus, and those things that aren’t the most beneficial to your family begin to fall by the wayside. Over the course of the last year I’ve given up many things that were pulling time away from my family and keeping my attention elsewhere. Now when I look at those old to-do lists, it’s clear to see I was so busy because my priorities weren’t in order.
I think all the time about our Entrusted memory verse “God is not a God of confusion, but of peace...” (1 Corinthians 14:33). It isn’t easy to achieve peace in our homes. Not at all! Depending on the number and ages of your kids, it can feel more like a zoo than a house for humans! But there are things within our control that can infuse peace into our lives. Being realistic about our time so that we can manage it well is one of them.
Happy New Year!