Improving my to-do list

My to-do lists are awful. They are scattered everywhere in my house, like the random thoughts tumbling around in my brain. I’m guessing it’s a good habit to write so many of my thoughts down, but not so helpful when they become more clutter on the kitchen counter (and office, and living room and car…)

Still, for all my to-do lists, I often feel like I’m simply shuffling of things around, like I’m moving but not necessarily going anywhere or accomplishing much of anything. Even after a productive day, I feel like I missed something important that I really meant to do, though I can’t always put my finger on why I feel this way.

It occurred to me in the shower (as most of my discoveries do) that maybe what I’m missing is a more complete to-do list: one that will make me feels accomplished no matter how many dishes are still “soaking” in the sink.

The list became longer than I was expecting, but I still think each of these things is doable on a daily basis.

1. Do something that scares me. This one has to do with my efforts to venture outside my comfort zone as much as possible. I’m naturally a bit of a homebody, and now that I don’t actually leave the house to work (and some days don’t leave the house at all), my comfort zone seems to be shrinking. Big or small, I want to do one thing every day on the edge of my comfort zone to keep it from collapsing in on me.

2. Un-procrastinate. This one will be hard because I am an expert procrastinator and queen of making excuses to myself. My time management potential would go through the roof, I’m convinced, if I just un-procrastinated one or two things per day. The hardest part is never the task I am procrastinating. It is getting over the hump of making me start something.

3. Connect with someone. Back to the homebody thing—I tend to go too long without reaching out to friends and family. For most people, this one is a given, but for me it can be tough to get outside my own head and make sure I connect with someone every day. Whether a phone call, coffee date, or email (though email is a stretch for real connection), I think this one is crucial to add to my daily list.

4. Make a memory. Somehow, little guy is already 6 months old. My dogs are both 5 years old! I’ve been married for going on 6 years. I don’t remember much of what has been going on for the past several years or so—I can see why people seem to think times speeds up as we get older. I used to remember all the Christmases, birthdays, and vacations. Now I find myself questioning how old I am going to be on my next birthday. Not all days are gems, but I every day has at least one thing worth remembering, whether in writing or photograph. Then I’m going to make a scrapbook! (yeah, right!)

5. Do something that makes me happy. Ever since I started writing this blog, I think about it all the time. I’m thinking of ideas for the future. I observe life in a different way through a writer’s eyes. It makes me happy. I love reading other blogs on different perspectives. Every single day, I want to devote time to my own thoughts and writing and reading. I am humbled that people actually follow what I write and care to comment, but I would do it no matter what. It makes me feel like I’ve still got something for just me (and you too, of course).

6. Take a step back. Absolutely everything benefits from a perspective shift. It is so, so easy to get caught up in the way things seem at the moment. If I can re-frame everything and ask myself if the so-called disaster will matter in five years or next week, I will be so much better off.

7. Get outside. And not just dashing to and from my car. I live in the country and it is gorgeous here. Even on cold days. And little guy loves the outside. So if we need to bundle up and take a quick walk in our woods so be it. We have woods! Lots and lots of mature trees, with a footpath right in our back yard! Why am I not taking advantage of this every single day?! Fresh air is good for the lungs and the soul.

8. Let go. Each day that ends, I lament all the things I didn’t finish on my assorted lists. And usually the obscene amount of dog hair that seems grow out of my carpet no matter how many times I vacuum with my way-too-expensive vacuum cleaner (rant for another day). At the end of each day, I want to be able to let go of my expectations and disappointments and just be satisfied for another day lived.

Great Balancing Act

“So be sure when you step.

Step with care and great tact

and remember that Life’s

a Great Balancing Act.

Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.

And never mix up your right foot with your left.”

-Dr. Seuss. Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

I love reading this book to my son. I received it as a high school graduation present, and to be honest, I don’t think I read a word of it until one night searching through our bookshelf for something new to read to little guy. The book itself is beautifully written, and when I reached the page with this passage, I got goose bumps. It is a stirringly simple observation about life, and has become somewhat of a mantra me.

Balance in life means something different than I thought it would. I thought balance would mean keeping as many balls in the air as effortlessly as possible. Making it all work–home, family, community, career, health–without feeling the stress of near-certain failure, or the strain of never-ending commitments.

I am beginning to understand that balance may mean something entirely different. I am learning that balance means making choices and living with the consequences. I may want to do and be many things to many people, but balance can’t be achieved with all those things on my scale. They don’t fit. In order to find balance, I have to choose what is most important to keep in the equation.

Choices are tough because when something wins, something else loses out. But then again, that’s the point. I can’t do everything and do anything well. I have to make choices. I have to accept that there are consequences to those choices. There is simply no way to make all the choices at the same time. If this is such a simple concept, why do so many women like me struggle with the guilt in their choices?

My desires for how my life would unfold would be forever changed by the new outlook that was born right alongside my first child. Priorities changed for me, and I never saw it coming. Instead of doing everything as I used to, I would have to make some choices about where I would focus my energies, or else spend a good bit of my life fighting a losing battle to balance more than what fits on my scale.

Then came the guilt.

If I continue working, between the commute and my 9 hours, plus weekend events, I would barely see little guy. I’ll miss so much. Guilt.

If I quit, I will no longer contribute to my family financially. I will push us off the edge of “comfortable” and into the realm of “cutting it kind of close” every month. Guilt.

If I work, I won’t give it 100% because I’ll be thinking about what I’m not doing at home. Guilt, once again.

If I quit, am I derailing my career as I know it? Am I giving up on my potential as an independent and driven individual contributor? Oh, make it stop.

I am still trying to come to terms with my decision to stay home with my son. I am not torn as much because it feels right for me at this point in my life.

That’s the great thing about balance. The choices, though they guide the direction of my life, don’t need to forever define it. When my condition or needs change, I can re-calibrate as necessary. And I think with experience I will learn to fit more on to my scale.

I have also discovered that balance is an intensely personal in definition. What constitute balance for one person is torture for the next. I’ve had several people comment on my decision, saying things like “you’re staying at home? trust me, you’ll be b-o-r-e-d,” or “As much as I love my kid(s), I could never stay home. I need my time away to stay sane.” These are valid points for these women. And there is nothing saying I won’t change my tune at some point and find that being at home actually starts to disrupt my ever-changing definition of balance.

I have to highlight that because in addition to guilt, many women (especially moms) I know endure another stressful and persistent state: the feeling of being judged.

I don’t judge what other moms do–honest. I know the mental and emotional gymnastics that can take place for moms to make the right decisions for their families. I also know many women are not afforded the choice I have–circumstances dictate what they must do for work, and my guilt-ridden tug-of-war must seem somewhat trivial to them. This is not a judgment on what I think is the best decision, just the best for my family at this particular junction in our lives. I commend women who successfully balance more than I do, and hope to learn from them.

I haven’t mastered the balancing act yet. But I know I’m on the way to understanding a lot more about my priorities and how to make the right things fit into my life.

I have not abandoned my ambition and pursuit of my own career, simply made the choice to change course for a while and focus on raising my son and growing our family. That’s a choice I’ve made, complete with consequences. My goal now is to see where it leads me and try to let go of the guilt. After all, I have places to go.

“…you’re off to Great Places!

Today is your day!

Your mountain is waiting.

So…get on your way!”

-Dr. Seuss. Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

–Side note, I’d like to thank Leoarna, whose post “Career Mum or Career Woman? Let’s just let each other get on!” inspired this post. I’m not quite sure of the proper blogging protocol for such a shout-out, but I wanted to make sure it was noted!