To-Do Lists Are Stressing Me Out


To-Do Lists Are Stressing Me Out

My mother taught me the art of To-Do Lists. There was always a notebook nearby. Always a pen. Not because she’s a writer, mind you. But because she is a list maker. Grocery lists. Lists of appointments. Christmas lists. What to pack lists. Dance class lists. Cheerleading practice lists. Birthday date lists. What You Got For Your Birthday lists. Lists of lists. They were everywhere. In the notebook. On the fridge. On the corkboard. On random post-its strategically placed around our lives. And if she was the List Queen, I became the List Princess. HRH of Lists. The heir apparent. I inherited the love of notebooks and post-its. And now, I’m surrounded by them. They’re on my phone. On my desk. On the whiteboard. I’m constantly reminded of things that need to be done. Have to be done. And honestly? The lists that have always kept my life a well-oiled machine are beginning to freak me out.

I’m starting to wonder if the lists are helping or hurting.

Nowadays there are notebooks and journals dedicated to nothing but lists and planning. Wake up everyday and list what you’re grateful for. Wake up everyday and list what you eat. Wake up every single day and list every single thing. Well, what if I don’t want to? What if I just want one list-free day where I don’t have to check things off or write things down? I go through red pens like a 7th grade teacher in the ’80s. The dry-erase people send me a thank you card each year for single-handedly keeping their business afloat. My son sees colorful, non-school notebooks in Target and says things like “Maybe I should get one, too?” And for what? To plan? Sure. For him to keep track of his assignments? Of course. For him to wake up one morning in 30 years and realize he’s also surrounded by lists that are stressing him out? Wait. Hold on.

Where’s the life lesson in that?

Yes, I want him organized. That’s a skill he needs. But do I want him pressured by a post-it or nervous about a notebook that contains all of the things he can’t possibly get done in a day or a week or a life? Absolutely not. So where’s the fine line? This morning as I sat with my coffee making my to-do list for a Saturday (A SATURDAY), it hit me. Shouldn’t this be my Relax Day? Are the things I have written down really so important today that life will come to a screeching halt if I don’t check them off? Because I’ll feel that way if I don’t. I’ll feel the judgment of my own list. My hand will get itchy from the red pen or the dry-erase marker. I’ll measure my self-worth by the number of checkmarks. Don’t we all do that? And don’t we all add things we know will get done to our lists just so we can feel that small sense of accomplishment when we check them off? What exactly am I teaching my child by doing this?

Are we really only as good as our most accomplished list?

Sometimes we need a break. Leave the notebook on the table. Leave the post-its in the drawer. Step away from the pen. Yes, organization is important. Time management is so important. But you know what else is just as important? Doing your best without tracking every task. Going with the flow. (Sidenote: I had a mild panic attack typing those four words.) Does it feel good to finish a to-do list? Well, sure it does. And you’ll have those days. But you’ll also have days where some things won’t be worth the rush. Days where stopping to enjoy moments or accomplishments that never make it to any list will be just as worthwhile. Don’t be so focused on what you have to do that you miss what you never planned.

Because sometimes the things that never make it to any list are the best checkmarks of all. (And, yes, I just checked “Write Chattanooga Moms Post” off my list.)


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