There Goes My To-Do List

IMG_8725

Oops. No more list. It’s all good. I can get everything done.

Back in the day when I was working 2-3 jobs 60-70 hours a week and going to school full-time pulling a 3.9 GPA, my to-do list was massive. I even had to schedule laundry, cooking, and cleaning. My life was so overscheduled that if I did not purposefully plan every single activity, it would not get done due to sheer lack of time. I was not living. I was surviving. I was working to pay the bills and trying to get through school to hopefully build a better life that I could enjoy at a much slower pace.

Last summer, as I was writing my thesis and finishing grad school, I had successfully minimized and downsized my life enough that my to-do list consisted of three items per day. I did this in order to prioritize my activities and to try to regain a sense of control over my time. It was quite effective. While the goal was three items per day, there were some days when my to-do list had five items, and others when it simply had one, but it was way better than what I had previously been facing.

My to-do list was so overscheduled that at one point I was a participant in a research study for Cornell on time management, and the researcher was so overwhelmed with my process that they even photographed my planner. Not only did I have a 5×7 size planner, but also it was color coded and notated with various tabs and small post-it notes with additional information that would simply not fit in the box. No one seemed to be able to understand how I was able to accomplish it all. Quite frankly, I have no idea either. Lately, my autoimmune disorder has been taking pretty much everything out of me, and I honestly cannot fathom how, just a few years ago, I was able to achieve everything in one day that I completed. Yet, somehow, I did.

I have been out of school for a few months now, and not only have I been able to better keep to my three items on the to-do list per day rule, but often, my to-do list has nothing on it. Nothing.

How does this happen?

Well, first of all, now that my life has significantly slowed from its breakneck pace, I no longer have to schedule, list, or plan for activities that need to be completed to sustain every day life. When the laundry basket fills, I wash clothes. When I run out of food, I cook more. I actually have time to do these necessities on a daily and as-needed basis without having to schedule every minute detail.

This means that my to-do list now only has occasional items on it such as doctor appointments, my book and writing clubs, and major home projects that need to be done as part of my KonMari plan. I have leisure time now that I never had before. Retired college student, indeed.

No longer having a to-do list is very freeing. It is freeing to the point where I actually feel lazy. I have been able to slow my life down to the point where not only am I able to effortlessly perform the duties required to maintain everyday life like laundry and cooking without having them scheduled, but I also have time to do pretty much whatever I want to do with my non-work hours. I have plenty of activities to fill my time, yet I do not feel overwhelmed in the slightest.

If you do not have the luxury as I do to throw your to-do list out the window, can you minimize it? Once we get past the point where we are scheduling survival activities on the to-do list, the list should only consist of those additional activities that are an addendum to everyday life, and not a necessity.

Another thing that has helped this process immensely is identifying my priorities. I have three priorities in life, and now that I have identified what they are, I am able to be sure that everything I do is aimed at achieving those goals. Everything in life that is not a priority, I have let go. Everything else is simply extraneous activity and background noise to what is truly important in life.

I still have a planner. My planner has gone from 5×7 size down to a more 3 ½ x 5 size. I no longer fill the boxes completely, and gone are the highlighting, tabbing, color coding, and additional post-it notes that I used to have. I use the square provided to me, and it is not full on any given day.

There is great freedom that comes when we have the privilege to be able to slow down our lives. When we have employment we enjoy that pays our bills and allows us time for recreation, we have time to do what we truly want to do without having to engage in the never-ending rat race that steals souls.

While my to-do list has gone out the window, I am in fact accomplishing more than I was completing before and I am so much happier doing it. Life is much more manageable when we slow down the pace to be able to focus on our priorities and goals to achieve that which is truly important.

If you do not have the luxury of sending your to-do list out the window, what can you prioritize to make it more manageable? How can you slow down today?

Triumvirate

IMG_1268

The rule of three. Bad luck comes in threes. Many religions believe in some divinity form of the number three. Two is company; three is a crowd. A hat trick in hockey is three goals by the same player in one game. Stories are told in terms of three: a beginning, middle, and an end. Races are run in thirds: with your body, your mind, and your heart. A triangle has three sides; a pyramid is one of the more stable structures. In baseball, three strikes and you are out. Three is an arbitrary number, really. I don’t even particularly care for the number three. It is not my favorite number. It is, however, quite significant for a number of reasons.

Since I have begun my slowdown, I have started living my life by the rule of three. It is going pretty well so far. My house is less cluttered, my anxiety levels have decreased, and I am able to accomplish more in a day. This is how the rule of three has affected my life:

  • Less clutter. It is really overwhelming to come home after a long day at work, and to see surfaces covered. Maybe it’s the stand when you first walk in the door that is covered with keys, coins, and umbrellas. Maybe it is your kitchen table full of the kid’s homework, leftover dinner dishes, the day’s mail. I have gradually gone through my house and cleaned off every surface. COMPLETELY. So it is empty. Then, I find the three things I love the most in the pile in front of me and put those three things on the table/shelf whatever. Not only does this make it easier to clean, but also I feel more relaxed now that my surfaces and shelves are less cluttered. What to do with the stuff you have removed? If you don’t love it enough to look at it everyday or to clean it or clean around it, it leaves. Yes, this is hard. Put it in a donation box for a month. If you forget about it in that month, it wasn’t that important, was it?
  • Shorter to-do list. I have a honey-do list. Everyone does. Unfortunately, I have no honey, and I have a lot of do. When I was working 60+ hours a week, I was always running around trying to do something. Even though I love Wonder Woman, and sometimes wear the t-shirt with the big bright W on my chest, I finally realized I can’t do it all. Nor should you. Unless you are going to be naked for the day, sometimes laundry can wait. I have cut down my to-do list from 15-17 things per day to 3 things per day. I now have time for the important things, like my family, and am less stressed when I do spend time with them. Sure, it may have been three days since I’ve mopped, but you need to create those memories with your family that give you a reason to mop.
  • Three weeks, or 21 days, is how long it takes to make a lasting change in your life that is going to stick. You hear three weeks about anything from starting a new exercise routine to a new sleep schedule, or basically anything you want to become a habitual form of your behavior. All change is hard, but if it sticks for three weeks, it is probably permanent. I have used this to accomplish goals, such as spending more time at the parks and beaches relaxing. Chose your goal, write it down, and circle a date on the calendar 3 weeks from now. If you do not meet your goal, that does not mean that you failed. Look for progress. My goal for these three weeks was to go to a different beach each week. Did I make it to three beaches? No, I only made it to two. While I may not have met my goal of three, the fact that I made it to two is progress towards my goal of spending more time outside. I am changing my behavior gradually and marking progress.

Can you do it? Can you shorten your to-do list to three things per day? What will really be missed if you do? Focus on the important things and not the minutia so that you can enjoy the moments of your life.

Can you downsize your surfaces so that they only contain three items? Start with one area – one shelf or table. Can you keep that one shelf from becoming cluttered with more than three things on it for three weeks? If so, that’s progress. Choose another surface and do it again.

Three is not my favorite number. Eight is actually my favorite number. It’s all part of slowing down. I’m going from eight to three and freeing myself for what is important in life – family, friends, and experiences.