I mentioned a few weeks ago in my “5 Rules to Get More Done” post that I’d be posting later on about why I feel it is so important to not over plan. Well, “later on” is today.
I struggle with To-Do List Worship. A bit hard to admit, but I do. This is some personal stuff, and shows you a more “real” side of me. It scary to put that out there, but good, I believe. Often, when we “get to know” others online, we really only get to know their more “perfect” self and that can be discouraging if we feel we don’t measure up. So today, I will be sharing a far less than perfect side of me. I feel strongly that God wants me to share this story and I’m hoping it will help others, but if it only helps one, it will be worth it.
Here it goes…..
I’ve found planning out my days, weeks and months to be incredibly helpful as I work to not just get “stuff” done, but to get the BEST stuff done. However, I have to admit that at times I have taken this idea a bit too far. In fact, for most of my life I have gone WAY overboard with my planning. I would watch others who seemed to get everything done (especially online “others”) and feel incredible pressure to keep up: to do more. I would schedule each and every minute of my day with “productive” things. Sadly, they weren’t always the most important things, but I felt a rush when I’d create a schedule full of “stuff” to do. I basically worshiped my to-do list. It was ALL IMPORTANT in my life.
Though it took me a long time to admit it, this didn’t work out well for me. One day, I’d get everything done, but feel incredibly exhausted and angry because my “to-do” list controlled me and didn’t “allow” me to just enjoy my life, my kids and my husband. The next day, I’d be too tired and frustrated to do everything on my list and I’d go to bed feeling like a failure and comparing myself to all those “other” women who could so obviously do it all. I felt like I was drowning. Yet, I couldn’t see a way out. If I wasn’t doing everything than what was I worth? The following quote, from a leader of the LDS Church named Dieter F Uchtdorf described me perfectly:
I was easily annoyed by interruptions to my precious schedule and to-do list. I would feel angry when extended family members would stop by for a visit. Couldn’t they give me a week (or a month’s) notice? I was put out by my own children’s needs for recognition and attention when they drew a picture or made up a funny (or not so funny…they are still little) joke. I had scheduled time with them, WHY did they need to bother me NOW? I was bothered by my husband’s last minute suggestions for dates or time together. Seriously!? You want to go bowling? TONIGHT? Don’t you know I have stuff to do? I was irritated by everything from red lights or longer than normal wait times in a drive through to unscheduled phone calls. I had very little sense of meaning in my life. I just wanted to get everything done. My ambitions had become albatrosses. My to-do list had become something I worshiped.
This also started to affect my health. I was not sleeping well, exhausted, anxious, fought regular headaches and digestive problems and found myself with less and less energy. I started taking two naps a day (after spending 8-10 hours in bed a night trying to get enough sleep) just to make it through the day. I was fighting panic attacks and constant exhaustion. My sweet husband started to pick up my slack. Many nights he’d come home from a long day at work, make dinner, play with the kids, and put them to bed while I spent an hour or two in my room trying to get under control.
Eventually, I became apathetic about most everything. I simply didn’t care. I lost my passion and energy for motherhood, marriage, religion and helping others in person and through this blog. I was simply tired of the rush, rush, rush I felt that life was forcing on me. I was tired of trying so hard and failing every time. I desperately wanted to do what President Uchtdorf suggests in the quote below, but couldn’t seem to find a way to let go of that to-do list rush (addicted!) and focus on relationships.
I decided that if I couldn’t change myself and sincerely focus on relationships, that maybe my Savior could change me, so I would focus on Him. I would focus more on worshiping HIM again. I decided to turn to Him and to my Heavenly Father and seek Their wisdom. I started small: I simply became more diligent about my personal daily prayers. I had never stopped saying them, but they weren’t always heartfelt. I changed that. I spent 3 weeks focusing on changing just that one thing. Then, I added scripture study. I put it first each day and read my scriptures not as something to check off a to-do list, but as something to help me “seek His wisdom.” I did it even when I was exhausted.
As I made these two changes an answer to my dilemma started to come to me, but it felt so counter-intuitive that I fought it for quite a while. The impression came that I needed more open time in my schedule. I needed to schedule LESS stuff.
Eventually, I decided that instead of focusing on and worshiping my to-do list, I would focus on moments that matter most. Relationships, instead of checklists became my priority and I did this by NOT planning every hour of my day. In fact, I leave at least 2-3 hours each day unplanned. I also leave one entire evening each week unplanned. And when I say unplanned, I mean it. There are big, HUGE open spaces in my schedule. They are filled with nothing. I began planning my days, weeks and months in the following order:
- At least 2-3 hours open, unscheduled time each day, and 1 evening each week. Once I scheduled that in, I plan:
- Prayer, scripture study, church and temple attendance. My next priority is
- Time for my husband (every Friday night is open for him as are 45 minutes each evening) and then
- Time for my kids (monthly date nights, daily reading time, weekly family outings, outside play time etc), then I take
- Time for exercise after which I meet the
- Needs of this blog and last,
- Other work needs or other things that come up.
This is basically the same way I’d always been scheduling my time only I’d been skipping step #1. In the past, I scheduled EVERY LAST MINUTE. One change: scheduling open time FIRST every day, week, month, has made a HUGE difference in my life in the following four ways:
1. Choosing What Matters Most
When I plan this way, I simply HAVE to cut things out. I HAVE to admit to myself that I am not superwoman. I CANNOT do everything. So, I choose. And because I choose while planning and thinking clearly and with the spirit, instead of spur of the moment when something interrupts my schedule and I’m irritated and stressed, I tend to do much better at choosing what truly matters most to me. The important things are getting done!
When an interruption comes (because they always do and always will), it no longer brings on an anxiety attack. I know I have an “extra” two or three hours built into my day. I have time for interruptions AND my to-do list. Even when interrupted, everything I chose to put on that list will still get done! I may have to rearrange a bit, but when my child needs some extra encouragement, praise or “mommy kisses,” or my husband needs my attention, or a friend needs a listening ear, it no longer means giving up the things I had planned to do with my time. It no longer feels like a sacrifice or puts me into panic mode.
3. Improved Relationships
Since I’m no longer in panic mode all day, I am able to focus on relationships in a real way. I can give them the time they need without the fear of missing something on my to-do list. I can put people first in the moments that they need to be. Teaching my son to empty the dishwasher is no longer just about getting it done, but about building a relationship with him. Sure, it takes a bit longer now, but the results are worth it. And I have the time because of those extra 2-3 hours!
4. Extra Time and More Done
I don’t always fill all 2-3 hours with interruptions. Some days have fewer interruptions than others. And some weeks I get to my “open” evening and it really is STILL optn. This ends up giving me extra time many days and I get CHOOSE how to fill it. I can’t tell you how FUN and exciting and freeing this has been! Sometimes, I pick something off my “bigger projects” list and work on it. Sometimes, I work on something that doesn’t need to be done until next week or next month. Sometimes, I just watch a movie or show or read a book without any guilt! Sometimes, I hang out with my husband or have an impromptu girls night. But no matter what I choose, I’m fitting things into my life that I felt I had no room for before. I’m getting MORE (important things) done!
I Still Struggle
Please, please don’t misunderstand. I’m not perfect at this yet. I’m still struggling. There are days I still say “yes” to too much and over-schedule myself. There are still days where I mess up and forget to read my scriptures or say less than heartfelt prayers. I’m still tired and I’m still fighting headaches (I think I may need to make some dietary changes), but the apathy is gone. I feel like I am controlling my life instead of letting life control me. My passion (if not my energy yet) for motherhood, marriage, religion and helping others has come back. I no longer spend each and every minute of each and every day feeling irritated and overwhelmed. I am at peace.
One. Simple. Change: Scheduling open time first.
has changed me. It has brought me peace. The idea for the change I needed to make came from God: when I put Him and my Savior first through the simple acts of prayer and scripture study. Earlier this month, another leader of the LDS Church, Richard G Scott taught the following:
I have found that to be true! As I made prayer and the study of the scriptures more important than even sleep in my life, I found answers for me personally. Scheduling my open time FIRST has brought me peace within my home, within my family relationships, and within my own heart. I am so very grateful for this gift.
If you are struggling in your life with to-do list worship, I highly suggest you do two things:
(1) Put God first in your life in simple ways, and then ask HIM for answers.
(2) Try NOT scheduling every single minute of your day. Make OPEN time in your schedule your first priority.