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My Revised To-Do List

Why do I continue to use an old solution for a new problem?

In the mountains, autumn is a hectic time of year, though I never need to consciously think about it because my to-do list, a rolling reminder of what I need to accomplish, sits on my kitchen table in plain sight, taunting me. No matter how many tasks I mark off, the list seems to keep growing. Each week I make a new list from the old one, hoping that by some miracle, a new, organized, and prioritized list will ensure success defined by a to-do list that actually shrank. Sound familiar?

Last weekend, after a hectic week at work, I was looking at my to-do list, desperately trying to figure out how I was going to pack 12 hours of chores, if I was lucky, into an 8-hour day. I had some ideas about how to work in parallel, creating efficiency, but resigned myself to the fact that it just might be a long day. I had chores that could not wait: getting the garden produce in, apples to can, herbs to dehydrate, water and fertilize the outdoor plants before the temperature dropped below freezing . . . and the list went on. Everything had to get done.

I had no sooner started attacking the first task on my to-do list when my parents called. They were going to be in the area and wanted to stop by and say hi! While my mother was chatting away about the visit, I was staring at the to-do list trying to figure out how I was going to manage the interruption. I would just have to grin and bear it, and work longer.

After a nice visit, with my parents out the door and on their way home, just as I was resuming the first task and planning out the second one, the phone rang. A very dear friend was calling. She explained that she hated to call, and she hated to ask, but could I please come to her house and help her with a project that had gone awry. I admit that I paused as I stared at my to-do list. My heart sank, but there was only one answer—yes of course I could help. So off I went.

On the drive, I was mentally making my way through my to-do list desperately looking for a way to get back on track and do what needed to be done. Having spent a career in Corporate America, this was old hat. Simply:

  • Step 1 – identify all activities/tasks

  • Step 2 – identify all tasks on the critical path—tasks that can’t slip or are time sensitive

  • Step 3 – prioritize the critical path tasks

  • Step 4 – identify those prioritized critical path tasks that can be completed by somebody else

I was part way through the exercise when I had to laugh. How many people today, I chuckled, actually have canning apples on their critical path? I’m sure not many. And with that, I tried to imagine how simple my life might be if I lived in town. I bet in that life my to-do list would be shorter. In that life I might have the time to accomplish everything I needed to do. Actually, what would I have to do? And with that question, the folly of my to-do list became apparent.

Creation, how long were you going to let me use an old solution to a new problem? The only thing I could do was laugh at myself; I had completely missed the point.

With that settled, I joyfully helped my friend and even stayed for dinner.

What did I absolutely have to do? What did I need to prioritize on the critical path? Nothing to do with canning apples or dehydrating herbs. So, the next day, as I reworked my list, I started with the prioritized critical path tasks. What I absolutely needed to do was:

  • Task 1: Be Kind

  • Task 2: Be Grateful

  • Task 3: Be Present and Notice

  • Task 4: Adventure with Hadley

Everything else is a blessing.

Now, when I see the list each morning and remind myself of my to-do’s, all I can do is smile. And every night when I review the list, I go to bed with a sense of accomplishment. The most important things got done.


PS. How do you manage your to-do list? Please add your comments.


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