How To Tame Your To-Do List and Take Back Your Time

Family Photo copyIt stares at me. From its place on my side table, my to-do list takes on a life of its own and demands I do this and do that, go here and go there as it whips me into a frenetic pace that drains me. Until I decide who’s really in charge, it becomes a relentless dictator that drives my life and my choices. And unfortunately even my joy.

Whether or not you make a written to-do list or carry one in your head, I’m sure you have days or weeks that it gets out of control and begins dictating your time instead of the other way around.

In itself, my to-do list can be liberating. But when I fail to rule what goes on it, it becomes a taskmaster that demands too much, rewards little, and keeps me chained to the insignificant. I find myself racing from one thing to another instead of doing what I truly love and making an impact in what matters most to me. 

The Word says, “Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:10).

Life is short. If we establish our priorities as we talked about in 3 Steps to Putting First Things First, then we must also ensure that the snatch of time we have each day lines up with those priorities. If we do, one day we will look back on these moments with satisfaction instead of longing for what could have been.

So how can we tame our to-do list and experience the joy of doing what we love and pursuing what we were created for?

1—Protect the important things by putting them on the calendar first. Is it a date with your husband? A game night with the kids? Time to exercise, or work on that book you have inside you? If it’s really a priority, then your calendar should reflect it and your to-do list should include it.

2—Eliminate everything that doesn’t line up with your priorities. Is a birthday party of a friend’s friend really something you should allot time for simply because you ran into her at the mall and she extended the invitation? Will that really move you closer to where you want to be or will it rob you of time you could be spending more wisely?

3—Keep it short and be realistic. We all have a million things to do, but we can’t do a million things. Effective people know they can do perhaps 5 things and they can do those 5 things well.

There are days I actually believe I can enthusiastically homeschool my children, pay the bills, organize my closets, finally sift through my emails, make business calls for my husband, whip up a gourmet dinner, get 4 loads of laundry finished, and still have the energy to be the perky little wife my husband would love me to be by lights out.

Instead, the fact is, I impatiently hurry the kids through lessons, pay the wrong amount to the electric company (really!), throw a few things out of my closet and plan to get back to it later, press “Delete All” on my emails (except yours of course 🙂 ), get annoyed with the customer who asks me the same question 4 different ways, order pizza, wash some underwear, and collapse into bed unshowered. Busy, yes, but hardly the outcome I wanted.

4—Give yourself permission to say, “No.” If this is hard for you, then practice saying, “Can I let you know tomorrow?” Then consider if the request is really something that lines up with your priorities. If not, craft a kind response and move on. I usually say, “I’m sorry. I appreciate the offer, but I have to honor the commitments I’ve already made.” You cannot make everyone happy, and you are not responsible for trying.

5—Have grace. You’ll get off track. You’ll get irritated at the unsuspecting cable guy who showed up 30 minutes late (and they always do) because your day is now behind schedule, you’ll glare at your husband when he asks if he has clean jeans and say, “Why doesn’t ANYONE else EVER do ANYTHING around here?!” (Of course that’s hypothetical since I’ve never done that). It’s okay. Claim a do-over, a pray-over, and then start over.

So, when you find yourself feeling like there’s no way to get everything done, you’re probably right. It’s a good way to know you need to dial back the insanity of busyness and be more intentional. So, take a deep breath, determine what is really important–what you hope your children will remember about you in 20 years, tame your to-do list and take back your time.

What would taming your to-do list leave you time for today? I’d love for you to leave me a comment telling me what your perfect day looks like.