Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Rethinking My To-Do List

When I was in teachers college, several of my professors told me, "Good teachers borrow, and great teachers steal."  Now that I'm at home,  I'm learning that women far wiser and far ________er (fill in the blank with several other adjectives), have been perfecting the art of homemaking before I came on the scene.  Instead of reinventing the wheel, I'm learning to steal from the best and adapt their advice for our family.

I'm currently reading Graced and Gifted: Biblical Wisdom for the Homemaker's Heart by Kimberly Hahn.  It's a great nuts and bolts book on living out the vocation of motherhood with the work ethic of Martha and the loving heart of Mary. 

While getting back into our "regular" routine around here, I'm learning to rethink how I go about my day.  I am a notorious list maker, and I loved making my "daily do-it list."  The trouble was, I rarely accomplished most items on the list for the day, and by lunchtime, I was so frustrated by my inability to accomplish that day's goals.  My inability to check off most items boiled down to poor planning, poor time management, and unrealistic expectations.  

Here's how I used to make my daily do-it lists:  I separated the items into AM and PM and ranked them in the order I hoped to accomplish them.  If I didn't complete the AM items by lunch time, I tried working on them in the PM, but I became so discouraged by naptime that I either (1) didn't allow myself a break and trudged on through to dinnertime, or (2) gave myself a "break" that often turned into an hour-long Pinterest session.  On the days when I trudged on through to dinnertime, I was irritable and impatient.  On the days when I indulged on a ridiculously long "break" during naptime, I felt even worse afterward.

Fortunately, wise women like Kimberly Hahn are able to help young mamas like myself get back on track and figure out how to order our days in a practical way.  She has some fantastic tips in a chapter on time management in Graced and Gifted that I encourage you to read on your own.  I'll summarize the main points that are helping me to order my days.

Start Your Day in Prayer
Kimberly recommends rising before your family to start your day in prayer.  Rise before the children so that you are able to collect your thoughts, greet our Lord in prayer, and gain insight into what His will is for your day.  When we wake with our children, we are in fire-drill mode, putting out fires at every turn.  Rising before the children and beginning the day in prayer changes the start of the day for the entire family.  

Starting the day with prayer is essential.  Kimberly Hahn says,
Placing our trust in the Lord at the outset of the day helps us to set the plans for the day and yet allow for flexibility.  We can start the day on Plan A and feel as if we are on Plan E by breakfast!  I remind myself daily, There is all the time I need today to do God's will today.  Prayer is an essential part of that reminder.  We are not coming to God and telling him our agenda: rather we are coming to share our hearts and hear his.
As mothers, we live in what Kimberly Hahn calls an "apostolate of interruption."  It's a humbling vocation when we realize that we aren't able to get everything accomplished that we want to everyday precisely because of these interruptions.  When she encounters these interruptions, Kimberly Hahn tries to think of Christ himself asking her to perform whatever favor being asked.  After all, our lives as wives and mothers uniquely allows us to build up the Body of Christ in our ability to serve others.  We might as well start viewing those in our sphere as Christ himself to embolden us to live out this mission. 

Plan for the Week Ahead

Set aside some time Sunday night to look at the calendar, plan for upcoming events, and assign tasks to different days.  Philip and I adopted this practice Sunday night and had a mini "family meeting."  We pulled out the calendar, made sure we had everything written down, discussed tasks we would like the other to complete, troubleshooted scheduling problems, and looked ahead to the following weeks to see if there were any events (i.e., hosting Thanksgiving) that we needed to start preparing for.  

Plan for Each Day
Since our "family meeting" Sunday night, I spend about 15 minutes each evening creating the following day's to-do list.  I gather the calendar (which we are in the process of putting exclusively onto the computer and syncing with our phones), my small tablet notebook, a pen, and my journal.  I tear off the previous day's list and add items that I did not complete, delegate, or eliminate.  I adopted Kimberly Hahn's practice she learned in spiritual direction with Father Michael Scanlan.  I list each item that I would like to complete.  Across the top of the page, I write the following:
A means Act today; B means Best if I could do it today; C means Could do it this week if possible; D means Delegate it to someone else; and E means Eliminate it.
I review my list and assign each task a letter, A-E, to the left of the margin.  If I have more than one item with the same letter, I assign numbers after the letter (i.e., A1, A2).  If I assign a task to delegate to Philip, I mention it to him and ask him which day he will be working on that item.  This helps me to stop thinking about the task because I delegated it, Philip chooses a day to work on it, and I know that he will be working on that item when he comes home from work, so I can adjust accordingly to give him the time he needs in the evening. 

I started using this system Sunday night, and it is working so well for me.  I am much more practical about what I am able to accomplish each day, I am better at delegating tasks when necessary, and I am spending much more time playing with the children than doing things around the house.  I feel more energized, my housekeeping schedule helps to maintain order, and all members of the family are happy in the balance of an ordered home.   

Bring Your To-Do List to Prayer
During your prayer time, review your to-do list.  Ask God to reveal what His will is for your day and to help you eliminate, delegate, and better prioritize the items on your list.  I quoted this line from Kimberly Hahn already above, and I'm going to quote it again because I need to tattoo it to my forehead:  "I remind myself daily, There is all the time I need today to do God's will today."  By taking my to-do list to prayer, God gives me greater insight into what I really need to be doing with the gift of time that he gives me and what I should be doing with it.  I may not be checking off as many items these days, but my time is much better spent doing God's will than mine.  

Adjust for "Changes in the Seasons of Life"
In full disclosure, I'm not rising before the children--yet.  I hope to be there in a few more weeks once I am back to 100% physically and the kids are waking up a little later after they (in theory) adjust to Daylight Savings Time.  Philip is on a more flexible rotation this month, so he's been able to get the children changed and fed before he leaves for work, and after he leaves, I make myself some breakfast and spend 10-15 minutes in quiet prayer with my to-do list while the children play quietly in the family room.  It's not a perfect system, but it's working for now, and I'm letting myself off the hook since this is what Kimberly Hahn calls a "change in the seasons of life."

It seems like such a no-brainer, but I had to triple-star the margin of the book when Kimberly Hahn reminded me that it's an impossible task to finish everything every night.  To emphasize this point, she reminded me that even "Jesus yielded his will to his Father.  He accepted the limitations of his human body, which needed food and sleep.  He trusted his Father's timing, and so must we."

How Do You Order Your Day?

That's what's working for this mama these days.  I'd love to hear what works for you!  Please share in the comment box.  

How's your prayer life?  Are you starting your days in prayer?  What materials (if any) do you bring to your prayer time?  What tools do you use to keep order in your home?  Do you have an electronic calendar or planner with special software?  Do you have a housekeeping schedule?   

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