If you’ve followed my blog over the years, you’ll know I’ve written on the topic of time management several times before. The age-old struggle for working mums of having too much to do and not enough time to do it in never really goes away – we’re just always looking for better strategies for dealing with it.
But this idea of being in control of our time is a key tenet of babyproofing and work/life balance – call it ‘having it all’ if you like. If we don’t get this bit right – the rest of the benefits of the freedom and self-determination to work and raise our families as we see fit, can’t follow. One way we’re often advised to start obtaining that control is by making ‘to do’ lists – so this week on the blog and podcast, I’m exploring that theme.
As you probably know – I’m a big fan of the ‘to do’ list. I find making lists to be liberating, getting the information I need to remember onto paper (either real or virtual) into some sort of sensible, do-able order, thereby freeing up space and energy in my mind. However, because I find them so useful, to do lists have assumed a huge importance in my life. I’ve realised that the state of my to do lists has a huge influence over how I feel about my life – over how I approach each day, over how productive I feel, over my sense of achievement at the end of day, and over my general self-esteem. Sure – it’s great to make one – but if you’re unsure about how to use a to do list constructively, it can become like a slightly tyrannical shadow lurking constantly by your side. I’ve realised that rather than serving me, my to do list had started terrorising me with its insatiable demands on my focus and energy. My to do list was getting out of control and I knew I needed to fix it, fast.
(If you tune into this week’s podcast, I’ll be exploring the method I used for conquering my to do list – and taking back control of my time.)
Has your to do list become similarly burdensome and non-productive? If it has, it might be because you’re making one of these common mistakes:
1. You have a mental rather than a physical list.
Not everyone likes list-making. My great friend Lizzie Edwards (a successful stylist, I interviewed her for the podcast in episode 20) hates lists. This is fine as she never feels overwhelmed and she works well by remembering and ordering things mentally. However, if you just don’t like making physical lists but you’re still constantly either forgetting stuff, worrying about forgetting stuff, or not prioritising tasks properly – then a list is what you need! When you commit things to paper (or screen), you free up precious space in your head and can order jobs appropriately.
2. Your list is indiscriminate.
You have a physical list (great!) but you’re putting everything on it, indiscriminately. This used to be me. Everything that needed doing, everything that other people wanted doing, or everything it seemed to me – in my always ambitious mind – like a good idea to be doing – it all went on the list indiscriminately. No prizes for guessing what happened! I ended up with a list so long it would take me half a morning just to review it, let alone start to tackle it. It became a tyrannical beast of a thing, ever growing, uncontrollable, uncontainable – until it took on such a monstrous form that I became too terrified to look at it and started to ignore it completely!
3. You have no system for how you create and manage your list.
It should be simple, right? You just write a list of everything you need to do and tick items off as you do them, no? Well, this was a fine strategy when life was less complicated – but now, with the advancement of technology and the stresses of modern life, we’re bombarded from all angles at all times. Demands on our time are coming from people we meet and speak to, people who email us, spam us, write newsletters to us that we’d like to read but don’t find the time to, people who reach out to us on Social Media – and last but not least – our clients or employers or both. And somehow we have to fit all of that in alongside seeing and being there for the people we love, and managing our homes and our lives – from the mundanity of getting the wifi fixed to the thrill of planning the next big family holiday.
It has all become too much. If we put everything on our lists, we will not be able to complete them. Because our lives are so much more complex these days, we need a more sophisticated system for analysing, ordering and tackling what we need to do.
This is my “Create, Cull and Crush” system.
In attempting to conquer my own to do list demons, I have started implementing this method. A disclaimer! This system works well for me most of the time – but there are still days when things fall apart. So this is not a silver bullet. But consistently applied it could well be the next best thing. I’m definitely regaining control – of my list, and my time! To find out more about how it could work for you too, tune into this week’s podcast.