I often feel like Jeannie, always saying “Yes, Master.” Only, instead of granting the wishes of a handsome man who keeps me locked in my bottle except fro when he needs me, I grant the wishes of my to do list which keeps me chained to my desk for most of my weekend. And that’s just my to do list at home; this doesn’t even cover the to do list at work. (The difference there, though, is that I get paid to work on that list.)
I have been evaluating my life lately, why it is that I never feel rested after a weekend, why I never get a good night’s sleep, and why I constantly feel like my life is a fight with the clock. The answer is my never-ending to do list. And I’ve come to a few realizations.
I love working from a to do list. In many ways, it keeps me organized, keeps me sane. A list allows me to get down my thoughts so that I don’t have to remember all of the tasks that need to get done. And the satisfaction of crossing one of those items off the list, well, it’s a good feeling, a feeling of accomplishment.
But when discussing it with a friend a while back, I had an epiphany. I do too much. I push myself to the breaking point. How has my life become all about my to do list? When did that happen? How—and why—have I let my master to do list become MY master? Why do I let it rule my life? In many ways, my passion and love of productivity, time management, and organization has also become my ruin, the cause for stress and worry and frustration. Sometimes I think that my most beloved tool—my planner—is also the thing that turns me into a cranky, irritable woman, on the brink of tears when things don’t get done.
The reality, of course, is that it has nothing to do with my to do list or my planner. It has everything to do with me.
I work a full time job. By the time I get home at night, I’m tired. I meet my husband at home, we cook dinner, we eat, we clean up, I do a load of laundry. I might pay a bill or two or make a phone call. But when all is said and done, there is only about 3 hours from the time I get home until the time that I have to start getting ready for bed. I need to head to bed around 9 pm in order be asleep by 10 in order to be up by 5:30 the next morning, which needs to happen if I have any hope of fitting some exercise into my day. (I am a morning exercise person—it just won’t happen at night, and honestly, I prefer to do it in the morning, anyway.)
Three hours isn’t a lot of time to get stuff done when you have other tasks that need to happen as well. But damn if I don’t try to fit other things in. It could be something productive, like working on a project. It could be something relaxing, like trying to knit. It doesn’t matter. The point is I try too hard to do too much in too little time.
The same goes for weekends. I prefer to do all of my errands at once. At the moment, this works best for me, and after a long day at work, the last thing I want to do is fight with people at a store of any kind. So I save all of my errands for Saturday. But this is in addition to working on everything else that I can’t get to during the week. This is on top of trying to fit in a yoga class. This is on top of attending church, spending time with my husband and family, maybe even seeing friends, and doing the routine Sunday things like ironing clothes that were washed the previous week or planning out the week ahead or cleaning the house. So yes, I run out of time, because in addition to those things, I also want to attend to some of the tasks that I want to get done for me, too. But it’s nearly impossible to do it all.
It’s especially impossible to work on my own projects during the summer. We’re so busy in the summer to begin with, but also, I don’t work Sundays in the summer. You would think this would give me more time, but not really because when I work Sundays, I take a day off during the week to make up for it. I get a lot done on those days because my husband is at work, and I can work on my projects then. When he’s home, I want to spend time with him, to do things together as a couple. So my personal projects fall by the wayside from June through October. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about the summer; I just feel the lack of time for those tasks that I don’t get to during those months.
Now that I’ve realized where the problem falls, I have been more conscious than ever about letting go of the things that just can’t get done.
In July we were away. I made a promise to myself that while we were away I would not check Facebook. I would not check email. The amount of time I spent online would be very limited. I was determined to make my vacation as tech-free as possible. See, this is also a downfall of mine—I hop online “just to check Facebook,” and it all goes to hell from there. I’m up for hours surfing and reading and researching. I like it, of course, but it’s a huge time suck. So that’s where the promise to myself for a tech-free vacation came into play.
I am happy to report that I was successful. I checked Feedly, only to mark the blog articles that I wanted to return to later. I didn’t look at my work email once. I didn’t go on Facebook once. I was very minimal with personal emails. I was on Instagram quite a bit, but that was mostly to post photos of my vacation, and because I don’t follow a large number of people, I didn’t spend hours perusing others’ photos. I spent most of my time with a book in hand or just enjoying nature.
And it was wonderful!
It made for a better vacation. It allowed me to truly relax and unplug. It allowed me to really get away from my life for a while. It made a HUGE difference.
It’s that difference that I’m trying to hold on to.
Yes, I still make larger to do lists than I can actually get done. But I’ve been very conscious of telling myself to do the most important things first and whatever doesn’t get done, doesn’t get done and to let it go and be okay with it. And so far, it’s working.
I’m also learning to delegate, that it’s okay to not be in charge every little task that needs to be done. While I know how to delegate, I tend not to for various reasons. At home, I don’t want to be a nag by coming up with things to do and not be the one to do them. At work, most of my tasks are fairly solitary, so it’s not a question of not delegating so much as it is not having anything to delegate. But I’ve taken on a project that requires delegation—I am coordinating the project and overseeing all of the parts as a whole, but the individual projects are being assigned to others who do their part however they see fit. And I’m trying to bring that same practice home.
We’ve had a number of large home projects that have come up, things that absolutely must be done, and while I’m keeping track of these items, I’m giving some of the responsibility to my husband, who is happy to do them. (My husband has always been happy to help—assuming it’s not his busy season at work—but lately I’m taking him up on his offer more often than not.)
So, for example, I have handed off the grocery shopping a few times. Usually my husband and I go together, but sometimes it’s not possible. And if I’m off on Friday (for working Saturday), I tend to do the shopping on Friday, even if it means piling it on top of 10 other errands I have to do, so that he doesn’t have to do them on Saturday. But this weekend I opted to ask my husband if he wouldn’t mind doing the shopping. I wanted to pick up a dress for a wedding we’re going to next weekend, and I didn’t want to be out of the house the entire day with errands. So he agreed to shop for groceries on Saturday morning. This allowed me my dress shopping time on Friday with some time to spare for blogging, which would not have happened if I had been out of the house all day. And getting a blog post done today means I won’t have to do it on Sunday (unless I have extra time for a second post for the week), freeing up that time to spend together. So in the end, some of my delegation benefits both of us.
Forcing myself to let go of what can’t be done and passing off tasks that I can let someone else do has worked wonders for me and has even lessened the anxiety I allow to flood in. I won’t say that I’m completely free of answering to my master to do list forever, but this is a good start. What I have learned and cultivated in the last few weeks has allowed me to relax more and enjoy more of my time, which allows me to feel more rested and slows time just a little.
I still have a long way to go but now I can put my “master” into his bottle and keep the pressure he puts on me at bay.