My #1 Tool for Keeping My Balance
Balance is all about knowing your priorities and living them out. Today I’m giving you the one thing that most consistently helps me live out my priorities.
Today is all about lists.
Most people I know have strong feelings about lists. They either love lists with all their mind, heart, soul, and strength. Or despise lists with a red hot passion. If you are in the “hate” camp, hear me out: I will submit to you, that you probably hate lists for one of these reasons:
- you are not a naturally organized or structured person, so list-making is difficult for you
- you are not using lists correctly
This will probably not come as a surprise to most you who have known me for longer than a day, but I am a natural list maker. This activity flows well with my personality—that doesn’t mean I always do it well, but when I do, it’s fairly easy for me.
Many of you are not naturally good at list making, and that’s okay. But it does not mean you don’t need lists. I am not a naturally spontaneous person, but that does not mean that I don’t need spontaneity.
Also, I would argue that even the most laid back, unstructured, easy-breezy-beautiful (Covergirl) people do better in life with some sort of order. Studies show that our brains actually crave order, because order reduces anxiety. I think it’s safe to assume we could all use less anxiety, right? Right! Lists have proven to be one way to achieve and maintain this order that our brain needs, by providing structure to our days and by helping us to remember important things.
Just to be clear: Lists are not balance. Time management is not balance. Productivity and order and structure in an of themselves are not balance. Balance is the peace we have when we know our priorities and we are living them out. Lists are a simply a tool to achieve that balance.
It’s one thing to identify our priorities. It’s an entirely different thing to build our schedules and our lives around those priorities–to look at our daily calendar and literally plug those things in.
Maybe you’re sitting here thinking, “I get overwhelmed with lists! It’s too overwhelming to make a list and maintain a list. I fear the list!” I understand. I get overwhelmed very easily. I get overwhelmed at the thought of becoming overwhelmed. Some people fear heights or spiders or the dark–I fear becoming overwhelmed. It’s the actual worst. So, I say this with all the empathy in the universe: If lists overwhelm you, you probably need to change how you “do” them.
When you’re using lists in the wrong way, they feel like bondage—like you’re a slave to your to-do list. I don’t want you to be a slave to anything apart from Christ! When I’m using my lists the correct way, they feel like freedom—they literally free up my day to live out what is most important and meaningful to me. Don’t you want to actually do the things and be with the people who are most important to you? Of course you do. That’s where the true balance/peace becomes a reality.
Four Different Kinds of Lists
- To-Don’t List
- To-do List
- To-day List
- To-Done/TaDa! List
The To Don’t List: What I prayerfully neglect for the sake of balance.
These are the things I do not do on purpose. These may be things I actually identify as priorities, but not now. Or maybe they are things that I love to do, but I need to set them aside because of my season or lack of time. Or maybe they are things that I feel like I’m supposed to do because everyone else does them or maybe my mom did them or the internet says I should do them, but I know I cannot or should not do that right now, or ever.
One thing that is currently on my To Don’t List is using coupons at the grocery store. I think using coupons is smart. It makes good budget sense. But it’s also time-consuming. For years, I carried around this underlying guilt because I would go to the store every week without my coupons and I’d keep thinking to myself, “I should have cut the coupons.” Sometimes I’d remember, and I’d be very happy I remembered and saved my $16 or whatever, and then other times I’d forget again. Or I’d take all the time to cut them and then I’d forget them. Or I’d keep putting off going to the grocery store until we got down to mustard and dried beans, because I’d want to cut my coupons first.
Then one day I decided, I’m just not doing that right now. I’m letting it go. I am going to neglect cutting coupons for the sake of balance.
I recommend the To Don’t List be an actual list–write it down! Because if you are anything like me, you may be tempted to keep picking that thing back up and letting it weigh you down. When my kids were babies and toddlers, my To-Don’t list was a mile long. I prayerfully neglected a lot of things simply because my babies required a lot of time.
For more on the To-Don’t List, check out this post and this post and this post
The To do List: What needs to be done eventually.
I actually have two different kinds of to lists. A Master To Do List and Special Category To Do Lists. It sounds complicated, but it’s not.
Master To-Do List: This is the list where, when something pops into my head, big or small, it goes on this list. Some items on my current master to do list: Call our insurance company, paint my daughter’s bedside table, wrap my other daughter’s birthday presents. It’s hodge-podge. It’s everything.
This helps keep my mind clear, so I don’t try to carry all this in my head or forget something important (the worst!).
Special Category To-Do List: This is exactly what it implies. This would be a shopping list or a “Things to Do Before Vacation” list or a special project list.
I currently have a “writing to do list” and a “women’s ministry to do list.” Maybe yours may be a homeschooling list or home projects.
Big Important Thing about This List: I do not work off this list daily!!! I don’t open this list up at the beginning of the day and start trying to do stuff. Rememeber the Overwhelm? Yeah. If I look at a list with 30 random items on them and try to work from that, I will cry.
No, this is the list I pull from when I’m making my ToDay List
The To-Day List: What I’m doing today
The To-Day List is my most favorite of all the lists in the land. This is where everything that’s important to me gets an actual place in my schedule. I look at my Master Lists and I pull items off, one at a time, and plug them into my day. I give them real time slot and I schedule them in.
I make this list out daily, and consult it several times a day. It only contains a few items, because time is finite. I can only do so much. I try to only put on my list what I think I can actually do. This way, I don’t feel like a slave, neither do I become overwhelmed.
The To-Done/Ta-Da List: What I’ve accomplished
One of the most satisfying things for a list-maker is to cross stuff off and to look back and see all you’ve accomplished. Just saying that makes me all warm inside. The To-Done/Ta-Da List is that–the ToDay list with everything crossed off it. If you are a person who gets to the end of the day and can’t remember what you did, this one is for you. Not everyone needs this, but I do. It’s very good for my psyche to look back and remember everything I accomplished in a week. Right now, I’m actually keeping my To-Done/Ta-Da Lists so I can see the progress I’m making on certain projects. It’s the bomb.
- Use whatever planner works for you. If you like fancy planners, then go for it. I personally use a 3 ring binder from Target, or like this one which is much prettier, loose leaf paper, and a simple set of tabs.
- On your To-Day list be sure to include all the things that are important to you. On my To-Day list I include my workout, what I’m making for dinner, my daily prayer focus, any household chores I’m doing, appointments, meetings, and kid activities (extracted from my iPhone calendar), and whatever I’ve transferred over from my Master list.
- At the end of the day, look at the To-Day list and circle anything you didn’t get to. If you still need to do it, then find a place where it makes sense. If you can let it go, then cross if off and let it be free.
- Don’t write too much. I’m notorious for thinking I can do more than I can actually do. Everything always takes longer than I think it will. So I under-plan. I can always add something if I miraculously get it all done.
- Take a good month or two or ten to find your groove. Don’t give up too quickly.
- If you do something that is not on your list, by all means write it down and cross that sucker off. Heck yeah. The satisfaction is worth it.
- Schedule margin into your day.
- Start each week with a fresh Master to Do List. The simple act of transferring items to a new list can help you discern if the items are things you should even be doing. It will also give you weekly reminders of what has been lingering on your list for awhile (I have some items that have been on my Master List for over a year.) It also brings some clarity, as things naturally bubble up to the surface in priority.
- Take 1 minute before you go to bed to look at your list and jot down the next day’s things. I like to do this because as I lay in bed or when I’m getting up and brushing my teeth and getting my coffee, my mind is already thinking about what I’ll be doing. It helps me stay focused on just the day’s tasks and mentally prepare.
The post was adapted from Episode 5 of The Balanced MomCast with Sandy Cooper. You can listen on iTunes or stream from the web.
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Really good advice. It resonated with me.
Thank you, Elizabeth! 🙂 So good to see you over here.