In my quest to examine all-things-time this month, I’ve made a discovery: I exert an abundance of mental energy carrying around my to-do list. Not a paper to-do list. I carry it all in my brain.
Thus, my brain is a lot like watching Fox News. See, there’s the Main Story going on, usually in split screen, because more than one person is talking—sometimes arguing. It’s what happening right now, in real time.
Then there are the two Scrolly-Strips at the bottom of the screen (because one strip is never enough) scrolling, scrolling, scrolling. These are the things I can’t forget, even in the middle of the main story:
*make the house payement*wash Elijah’s basketball uniform* Rebekah is buying her lunch, not packing on Thursday but Elijah is buying on Monday and Elliana only needs a lunch on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday*stop at Target after you pick up Elliana from Mother’s Day Out, the kids need shampoo and conditioner in their bathroom*call Dad*feed the cat, check to see if we need kitty litter*Elijah had his antibiotic at 7 am, next dose will be after school, tell Jon to give him the third dose before bed*schedule a sitter for next Friday*pull the chicken out of the freezer*schedule a carpet cleaning*no, wait, save the money and buy some carpet cleaning solution for the Bissell you bought 15 years ago*when you go to Target today to buy shampoo and conditioner, buy carpet cleaning solution, too*vacuum and clean the carpets*pray*make Elliana’s 5-year-doctor appointment*pull the wet laundry out of the washer*check e-mails*garbage goes to the curb on Monday*write a blog post*get gas in the car before you pick up the kids from school*we’re out of bananas…
Then there’s the giant red box in the top corner of the screen flashing the Breaking News:
Rebekah left her school book on the front seat of the car! Jon has a dinner meeting tonight and won’t be home until 9 pm! Elijah needs a historical fiction book for his book report due in 2 weeks! Elliana just spilled an entire box of cereal on the kitchen floor! Elijah has strep throat and needs to see a doctor! The cat just puked on the couch! Rebekah busted a bracket off her braces and needs to see the orthodontist!
(whoever said stay-at-home moms don’t “work” has never done this job)
And let’s not forget the Commercials:
You need a bigger laundry room. You need to lose 10 more pounds. You need hardwood floors. You need new jeans. You need a vacation. You need to sign your kids up for spring sports. You need new kitchen towels. You need to spruce up your front entrance. You need to go to small group at church. No, you need to LEAD a small group at church. You need granite counter tops. You need to cut coupons. You need a new computer. You need to read more. You need to keep a cleaner house. You need to be a better wife. You need to remain calm when your kids talk back. You need to spend more time with your girlfriends. You need a pedicure. And a manicure. Who cares if it chips the very day you get it? You are worth it—you NEED it!
That, my friend, is the 24/7 news show known as my brain. All. The. Time. No wonder I am in a constant state of “overwhelmed.” No wonder I feel too busy before I even pour my first cup of morning coffee. I simply cannot carry that much information in my brain all the time and stay sane. No one can. Yet, that is how I live. And that is why I am insane.
So a few weeks ago, as I began to pray about all the duties flashing on my news screen, I felt like God was leading me to perform a massive Mind Dump: Take the contents of my brain and dump them out on paper. Everything that was in my brain. All of it.
It wasn’t pretty.
Now, just to clarify, I am, by nature a “list girl.” I always have some kind of list-system going. I love lists. I love looking at lists. I love crossing things off lists. Sometimes I actually write things ON a list AFTER I’ve done them, just to have the satisfaction of crossing them off. (<---- proof that I am insane)
But if I start to reel in a perpetual state of “overwhelmed“ you can be sure that I’ve stopped keeping and maintaining a good list system. I may jot down a quick grocery list on my way out the door, and maybe I know what I’m making for dinner this week. But that’s probably about it. The rest of it, I’m lugging around in my little News-Show-Brain. And it’s a gigantic, heavy mental burden.
(the nice thing about the news show analogy, however, is that the girls always have great hair)
So, back to the Mind Dump. Here’s how it played out.
1. I got out a blank sheet of paper and literally wrote down every single thing that was weighing on my brain. Everything I was trying to remember. Everything I had to do, even if it was next month. It took me quite awhile to complete this dump, but it was incredibly cleansing. I didn’t have any less to do after I wrote the list, but I had nothing to remember to do. It was all written down on a sheet of paper. And my brain was suddenly free.
2. I then organized my list into different categories.
a. To do this week
b. To do someday
d. Target/Costco/Whole Foods
e. Things I would like to buy for the house
h. Etc…(I’m adding categories as I need them—it’s a work in progress)
3. Finally, I got out one blank sheet of paper and I wrote at the top “Monday.” And from that massive to-do list formed from my crazy-news-show-brain, I chose a few things that I needed to do that day. I set the bar low, because the worst thing you can do to an over-achieving-lover-of-lists is to give her more things to do than she can actually accomplish in the allotted time. I also learned a long time ago, I need a lot of margin in my day. If I pack it full, I don’t do well.
4. I put all my lists in a cute little 3-ring-binder, with Monday’s list as my very first page. So, my today’s list is in my immediate line of vision when I open it up (not the entirety of my brain dump).
5. I carry this Mind Dump binder with me in my car. I keep it on my kitchen counter when I’m home. As new things pop into my mind, I jot it down. Like a mental game of hot potato, I try to hold information mentally for the shortest time possible.
6. At the end of every day, I look over my lists, consider what I accomplished (which is always WAY more than I give myself credit for) and what I need to do next. If I need to move something from today to tomorrow, I do. I extract only the most important or most urgent things from the other lists to do that day, pulling items from my various dumping areas to create a current-day manageable list. Emphasis on manageable.
And suddenly, like magic, I have clarity. My day is controllable. Enjoyable, even! I wake up refreshed, knowing I am able to accomplish everything I need to accomplish today. And just in case I don’t, I can start over fresh tomorrow. I don’t have to worry about forgetting anything because it’s all right there…in my cute little binder.
I know it’s just a simplified version of a daily planner–and those have been around for decades. But still…
I feel like I pulled the plug on that over-stimulating news show and, instead, stepped outside… into a green meadow full of wildflowers, warm breezes and sunshine.
OK, not really.
But it’s helped me a lot. And I thought it might help you, too.
Q4U: Do you have a good system in place to manage your life’s tasks? If you feel overwhelmed, have you considered that maybe it’s not that you’re too busy, but instead you’re holding too much in your brain?