Tuesday, November 25, 2014

When Your To-Do List Feels Like an Endless Chase

I’m going to give you a behind-the-scenes tidbit about The Writer’s Alley. At the end of every week, Weekend Cat Sherrinda sends us an email asking for the next week’s topics to include in the Weekend Edition. When she sent it last week, my mind immediately snapped to something I’ve been mulling over: how to conquer a to-do list. Because in the middle of adding to my workload, potty training a toddler, and getting ready for Thanksgiving, I hoped to master it in the 3-4 days’ time before my post was due.

After 3-4 days, it’s official: I don’t think I’ll ever feel qualified to tell you how to master your to-do list.

But I think a lot of you are like me, balancing your passions and dreams with other responsibilities that can’t be neglected in the meantime. I mean, all that caffeinated, chocolatey writing fuel doesn’t pay for itself, does it? :)

Perhaps you’re working a 9-5 that really feels like a 24/7 or caring for an aging parent or taking night classes or chasing babies all day. You compartmentalize the different roles you play. Spouse. Parent. Sibling. Small Business Owner. Volunteer. Student. Friend. The list of responsibilities can seem endless. By the time you’ve managed to put out all of the fires in one area -- or at least reach a point where they’re manageable -- the flames of another aspect of life are already licking at your heels.

To be honest, sometimes it feels a lot like this:

But maybe, just maybe, these tips and reminders I’m learning will help if you’re like me and juggling a few other hats besides your writer hat.

Plan your work and work your plan. My dad has been drilling this quote into my mind since I was a kid, as his dad did before him :) It’s good to sit down at the beginning of each week and map out any scheduled events, assignments, deadlines, and other non-negotiable responsibilities. Then make a list of goals for the week that are important to you -- for me, this includes bigger household tasks that I should probably get around to doing, meals to make, how many times I want to exercise to reach my health/fitness goals, and of course, my writing plan.

So I have a map of each week that tells me which days will be more saturated with the non-negotiables + lighter days I could perhaps utilize to get more writing accomplished. I try to budget my time realistically, not piling too much on my plate on any given day if I can help it (sometimes I can't), looking at the map of my week to forecast any potential interruptions so that, if I do happen upon a roadblock, I'm more prepared for it and it can’t derail me as easily -- OR give me an excuse to put my writing on hold.

Stop procrastinating. I’m looking at you, Netflix Gilmore Girls binge. Instead of mindless and idle entertainment, be intentional about rewarding yourself with set times for things that will give you a break and re-energize you. Pick an episode of a favorite show to watch after you’ve accomplished your goals for the day. Give yourself a pretty manicure. Take a walk to brainstorm or a power nap to rest your mind. And so you can enjoy these moments fully, set timers during designated work times, turn on Do Not Disturb Mode on your phone and social media, go into full-screen mode on your Word Processor. There are even programs that block internet surfing for you!

I’m a big fan of the 15-minute timer. You can do ANYTHING for 15 minutes. And almost always you can spare it, even during your work day. Focused 15-minute writing sprints? Yes. Turning on the oven timer and cleaning the kitchen? Done. 15-minute power nap? My very favorite.

One thing I’m learning is that a single 15-minute writing sprint a day equals 200-250 words I wouldn’t have if I continued buying into the lie that I have no time to write during the week. And that adds up!

If you do fail, recover well. You know what? Even if you've planned for roadblocks and allowed yourself wiggle room, things happen. Stuff falls through the cracks sometimes. There are weeks when to-do list items are constantly shuffled or not crossed off at all. But you can recover gracefully, own up if it affects anyone else, and improve your habits or adjust your schedule so history doesn't repeat itself. Most of the time, one failure doesn't have to be the end-all, be-all. Remember that, fellow perfectionists, and give yourself grace.

Make sure you’re maintaining balance and healthy priorities. On that note, it’s easy to get so caught up in squeezing our dreams into the cracks of every free minute that we become too focused on one thing. But is it really worth it if important areas of our lives -- along with the people we love -- might suffer for it? I think you know the answer.

Remember that God made you a writer, but you have to make sure you’re doing it to honor Him. If you’re honoring Him in what you do, then on one hand, your well-being won’t suffer for it. The people you love won’t either.

And on the other hand, when you’re honoring God, you’ll find that time becomes a miraculous currency. Somehow everything gets finished -- and with a little intentional planning, everything can get finished well.

What are some things you can be more intentional about in your life? Do you have any tips to add to this list?


Laurie Tomlinson is a wife and mom from Tulsa, Oklahoma, who enjoys stories of grace in the beautiful mess. She is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers and received the Genesis Award in 2013 (Contemporary) and 2014 (Romance). Her work is represented by Rachel Kent of Books & Such Literary.

You can connect with Laurie here:

Twitter - @LaurieTomlinson


Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Um, YES. I just love this, Laurie!! I'm really working on that second-last point you made! Great stuff here, girl.

Laurie Tomlinson said...

@Karen, you always such beautiful encouragement :) I think anyone who pretends they have this down either 1) is deluding himself or herself, or 2) has WAY too much time on his or her hands :) My point is that I think time management and intentional living are always a work in progress!!

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Love this, Laurie. I'm organized, but you bring out some great tips.

I need to be better at looking at the landscape of my weeks and figuring out the days I need to give myself grace when it comes to writing. And timers? My home-life's best friend! :)

Great post!

Have a happy Thanksgiving!

Laurie Tomlinson said...

@Jeanne - Thank you! Hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving, too! The timers will come in handy this time of year, won't they? :)

Jilly said...

Thank you for this post, Laurie. What do you think about multitasking? Is it works?

Laurie Tomlinson said...

@Jilly - I am all for multitasking--IF it's productive :) If you can utilize different parts of your brain to do two things at the same time (i.e. driving to a meeting and calling someone back on speakerphone) and still do them well, then yes. I think that trying to do too many things at once can be counterproductive, though.

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

great stuff, mama! very practical! :)

Georgia Carter Mathers said...

I'm a bit of a workaholic, although I can procrastinate with the best of them. But when I get stressed, I tend to work, so I have to make myself take a walk or sit down and watch TV. Everyone needs downtime to be productive.