Making over the to-do list

motherhood and productivity, the to do list

I started this year in sort of a funk. We had just come off a chaotic (albeit fun) 2 ½ weeks home with our families, Layla was nap-regressing and colds and coughs were on heavy rotation in our house. I was far from as organized and centered as I dreamt I would be starting the New Year. Apparently this is a Mercury retrograde thing so I may not be the only one who was (is) feeling like I’m still playing catch up, and feeling unsettled and scattered. Or maybe it’s just a Mom thing.

I had the delusion that during our trip home for the holidays I would actually get some time to myself to get some personal to-do’s done … but it didn’t happen. No real surprise there but I still felt disappointed heading into the new year with a backlog of work-related, blog-related, life-related tasks and no real idea when or how I was going to tackle them.

I love a good to-do list. It makes me feel in control, like there is a plan in place for what I need to get done. When all else fails, refer to the list. Plus, the simple act of crossing a thing off the list is ridiculously satisfying. Problem is, it can work the other way too. It can be completely unsatisfying when I get nothing on the list done in an entire day – even a day when the kids are with a babysitter. As the list gets longer and few items are being eliminated, I start to beat myself up. “Why can’t I just get caught up? What’s wrong with me?!” and “I spent $75 today on childcare and what do I have to show for it?” It’s an awful feeling.

A Faulty System

The other night it came to a head. I was beyond stressed, frustrated, and feeling so disappointed in myself for not managing this whole thing better. And by that I mean not managing MYSELF better. Something wasn’t right. I was measuring my days by this list, by what I did and especially didn’t get done. I had set myself up for failure. Chris would come home and ask how my day was and I would grumble about how I once again got nothing done. I felt myself resenting my kids when they wouldn’t nap and allow me to “be productive.” My evenings were spent on the computer, where most of my to-do’s require me to be, which meant I was missing quality time with Chris. I felt like I needed a major reset.

So that night, as I was rocking Layla to sleep in her dark room, I started taking some deep breaths and inviting clarity in. I absolutely cherish that quiet time with my baby, when her body is still and relaxed in my arms – it’s so calming for both of us. I remembered what my number one job is: being her (and her sister’s) mom. Period. Here I have been pushing the mom stuff to the side to make room for everything else: work projects, misc to-do’s, instagram, the blog, and then judging my day’s success based on what of those other things I actually got done. I have it backwards. If anything, my day should be judged on how present I was with my kids, how many times I chose spending focused time on them instead of running around trying to cross things off my list. When Chris asks me how my day was, I should be able to answer that it was great, even if all I did was keep my kids alive, fed and happy.

Just then, Layla’s little hand reached up and wrapped around my finger and I started to cry. It was validation: Yes, that’s it. I’m her Mom and she needs me. I looked at her tiny hand and felt my heart aching because it won’t stay this little for long, and what a shame it would be to look back on this time and realize that I was too stressed BY it to see the beauty OF it.

the new to-do list

A To-Do List Makeover

So I vowed to change my system, and it was going to start with the damn to-do list! It needed a makeover, along with my expectations. I am a mom of two now, my standards of productivity should match my new reality. And the VERY LAST thing I need to be doing is beating myself up at the end of every day.

After putting Layla down, I went into the kitchen and made a list of everything I did do that day. Instead of looking at my original list and feeling like I failed because there were only 2 things crossed off after an entire day, I was determined to see it from a different angle.

I showered
I nursed my baby 4 times
I pumped 1 time
I listened to a “self-help” podcast
I sent an email to the preschool director
I corresponded with clients
I made Ellie’s lunch for tomorrow
I cuddled (a sick) Ellie
I drank a green juice
I ate a healthy, homemade dinner
I ate dinner with my family
I read Ellie books and sang her songs
I shared my feelings with Chris

And looking at that list, I instantly felt different about my day. Instead of it being a terribly unproductive day, it was a day full of the things that really matter. Things that in the long run I will look back on and think, “thank goodness I took the time and held my toddler when she was sick” because really, what is more important than that? Editing that batch of photos or shipping the return back to Amazon can wait til tomorrow, or even the day after.

Of course most weekdays I need to get a lot more actual work done. I work for myself and juggle different clients and projects and I’ve been getting busier lately. I appreciate my flexibility and the fact that my work schedule allows me so much time with my kids but there are plenty of work-related tasks that need attention most days. So now when making my to-do list for the day, I start with the things that are a priority to get done, and then I make sure to add in the real life everyday stuff too – like getting on the floor to play with Layla, or dressing up in a tiara and cape to play princesses with Ellie.

It sounds silly but adding the things I do every day to my list has in effect made me more productive. Somehow by making the list more balanced and doable, I seem to be encouraged to actually do more. And if for nothing else, my new to-do list shows me when I look back at my day that I got the important stuff done. Spending quality time and being present with my family is always the first priority and my to-do list should only be a reminder of that.

5 thoughts on “Making over the to-do list

  1. Grocery list, yes! To do list, no. You’re so right….it sets you up for failure. Got done list, absolutely!
    I love poster Anne’s New Year’s custom. What a positive way to look back on the year.
    I’m glad you got rid of the to do list, Jessie. Motherhood is challenging enough. My kids keep me busy and I’m grateful for whatever important stuff gets done. It sounds like you’re doing just fine, keep up the good work ??

    1. Love it Trudi! I’ve slacked on my “got done list” lately so this is a good reminder! I HAVE started a new habit of going through my favorite parts of the day when I go to bed. It makes me smile about my day, even if most of it wasn’t “great” – there are always moments to celebrate. Thanks for reading!!

  2. Ran across your blog by accident. Great job! My kids are a little bit older than yours. Cute girls, BTW.
    Couldn’t agree more about to do lists. Setups for failure, and stressful. That’s why New Year’s resolutions are bad. My hubby’s family has a unique custom for that, that we’ve adopted.
    On New Year’s Eve, we write our “have done” lists. With major accomplishments like the birth of our children, down to little things, like starting an herb garden. Some years it’s a nice list of little, important things. Other years, it’s big things with little ones in between. We read the list the following New Year’s Eve, and see how far we’ve come. We take notes along the way to compile the new list. There are a few sad things, too. Like the loss of a beloved friend or family member, or a sweet pet. But we include those things, because they are part of life, and those who have passed must be honored and remembered.
    We’ve enjoyed doing this, and it has shown us that the little things in life are as important as the big ones. And, over all, we are making a unique journal that tells about us as a family. The previous year’s list is put in a file. So we can look back any time we want. Not only does this give us perspective on our accomplishments, it makes us see the value in all the positive things we do, big or small.

    1. Thank you Anne! Yes to all of the above!! I LOVE your tradition and it reminds me a little of a tradition my husband and I have for every anniversary and kid’s birthday. We reminisce over all of our favorite moments and memories and usually end up digging pretty deep. I like how your tradition has you writing them down though. That’s what we’re missing! I want to do this this year, do you mind? 🙂 And then maybe I can include it in the back of the photo book I make for each year (need to do one for 2016 still). Than you so much!! XOXO

Leave a Reply