I am list dependent.
It kinda feels good to admit it. I’m list dependent. A habitual list maker. I have lists on paper, in my iPhone, on my desktop, on the whiteboard in the pantry. I email my husband lists. I’m the kind of list maker who has, on more than one occasion, wrote something on the list that was already done just to cross it off. Sick. I know. But I spend a lot of time in my imagination with people who don’t really exist. The lists are a sort of bridge to and from. They help clear clutter out of my head so I can get there and they help me find my way back, to refocus and remember what must get done in the real world.
Or, at least they give some general suggestions about what needs to get done eventually.
There are days when my husband comes home and I know he looks around and wonders, What exactly is it you do here all day?
We’re still married because he doesn’t actually ask, but I’m sure when he comes in and we’re in pajamas eating cereal out of a box and dishes are piled and there hasn’t even been a thought about dinner, let alone something actually cooking, he sighs and steps over the stray shoes and toys and wonders.
I used to view an incomplete To Do List as an implication of failure. Over the last few years, though, I’ve learned when you have little kids even the days that end looking like dirty pajamas and dish piles are busy and they aren’t the sort of days you plan. Most likely you’ve got a sicky on your hands so everything slated for the day got bumped. Work went undone, chores and homework unfinished and the to-do lists escaped, unscathed, surviving to torment again tomorrow. I always picture it moon-walking across the desk, waggling its eyebrows and gyrating at me.
I used to watch its imaginary victory dance and wonder, what had I done all day?
For those of us who are partners and parents, we know we can make our lists but we won’t always get to them because our days are not our own. Our priorities can shift with every sick kid, every unexpected work crisis, and every friend who needs to talk. It’s easy to get to the end of a day, look at the list and think, I’ve accomplished nothing. But usually that’s not true.
Too often, in both our personal and professional lives, women don’t acknowledge what they do. An article from the Harvard Business Review blog network (http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2011/10/four_ways_women_stunt_their_careers.html) sites failing to actively seek acknowledgement as the number one way a women damages her career. It’s not a big leap to see we often marginalize ourselves and what we do in our personal lives as well.
We’re hard on ourselves (and often each other) about short comings and we don’t celebrate the successes enough. It’s unfair and a total waste of energy. I may not have made it to get the oil changed or to the grocery (for the third day in a row), but I did get some words down on paper this morning, put four baskets of laundry away, and I finally got promoted from a horse to a prince (an actual human!) during princess playtime, which is a pretty big deal in my world.
Very few of us are sitting around all day doing nothing and really it’d be silly to allow a list to blindly dictate our actions of the day. A list can’t account for all the stills and swirls of life. My to do list usually doesn’t include things like “teach kids about losing with dignity” or “answer elaborate series of questions about mommy parts”, but these things come up and it takes time to address them properly.
We may not get through our lists, but it doesn’t mean we’ve failed. Really, it doesn’t mean anything. Put it down for tomorrow, or the next day. Or eventually. Or someday. Or never.
I did myself a favor and instead of focusing on what I didn’t do, I started listing what I had done instead, a ‘Have Done’ list, I guess. It’s been eye-opening in more ways than one. I can see what I’ve accomplished and I can see where I’m wasting time and make changes. What has to get done (usually) gets done and everything else falls in somewhere, probably just about right where it should be in the scheme of my priorities and life.
Most days, the ‘Have Done’ list outshines the ‘To Do’ list by a light year, and something about that feels very, very right.