Chip away at your “to do” lists

I don’t know about you, but I tend to have a feast or famine type of schedule. Well, never really famine, but my work tends to follow seasonal peaks and valleys – December tends to be a quieter month on the workshop front, which gives me a chance to regroup from the Fall months and prepare for the holidays, and the end of June marks the end of my training season until the Fall rolls around again. Once the Compassion Fatigue Conference is done, I tend to spend a week in recovery mode (napping, dealing with email backlog, reading novels and taking time to smell the peonies in my garden). Then after about a week, I start getting a surge of a different kind of energy – not the workshop development vibe, but the “let’s chip away at the piles” type of groove. This is quickly followed by “holy s***! There is so much to do! Which could then easily be followed by feeling discouraged and going back to the couch to read more of Tilda Shalof’s new book and eat more cherries. But here’s what I do instead, and it works every time: I trick myself into getting through the piles. Take my freezer, for example:

My freezer: no matter what I try, I always end up with an overfull freezer at the end of the busy season. It’s partly because I can’t stand throwing food out – so I freeze tiny containers of leftovers, tomato paste, burger buns, tortillas etc. and then of course I throw them out months later when they are freezer burnt beyond recognition. But every year, by the end of June and the start of heat waves, the freezer becomes so full that it does something I can’t quite understand which causes my fridge lines to freeze and the fridge stops working. Of course this normally happens on the hottest day of the year after I have done a big shop, and I have to empty the whole darn thing, stick everything in coolers while the entire machine defrosts overnight so it can start cooling again. ( Thank you Pete the appliance guy for sharing this tip with me and saving me $60 a year in service calls.) But this year that’s not going to happen. Here’s what I have been doing: every time I open the freezer to get something, I make myself throw something out (off to compost, of course) or use up one frozen item during that day. That’s it. One item at a time. Sometimes I get all excited and throw two things out.

(for a great link on dealing with your fridge and freezer food and reducing your grocery bills, check out the resources at the end of this article)

Say no: I know you already know this (and so do I) but sometimes we need a friendly reminder that we need to take some things off our plate. This week, I had a coffee date with a great friend who is a coach and I was sharing with her my concern about being overloaded with projects that involved commitments to others (these are often pro bono book reviews, reading someone else’s proposals, things I do for colleagues, and which I normally love to do, but at some point there are simply too many). My pal the coach reminded me of what the wonderful Joan Borysenko said to us recently at the conference: “Disappoint one person a day”. My friend said “I don’t think that in your case she meant your family! Pick one work-related commitment you recently made that is causing you stress, and respectfully say no to them.” So off I went, with my homework clearly outlined. Guess what happened? I turned this one project down and the person replied saying “No worries, we weren’t really sure it was a good project anyhow, and we’re going to drop it for now.” Of course, it’s not always that easy, but for a first effort, nice result.

Scaling down: I tend to spend the winter compiling home improvement lists (do you do that too, when you’re brushing your teeth? As in “wow, that wall is really peeling a lot, must do something about that…in the summer when there is more time” brush brush, spit, put toothbrush away, move on) and then summer arrives and the list is a mile long? So this year I’m going to pick three reasonable projects (one urgent, one emergent and one that will make me happy every time I see the improvement). The rest will have to go in the job jar for a future hiatus.

Resources to help you with your to-do lists:

1) A friend of mine recently sent me this link: 3 tiny habitsBJ Fogg is a social scientist who is interested in behavior change and technology. He has a developed a free program called “3 tiny habits.” You can join this program and see if it works for you.

2) Squawkfox has a whole series on reducing food waste and saving money, and a great blog post on dealing with your freezer.

3) Leo Babauta’s blog Zen Habits. Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a big fan of Leo’s simple, step by step guides to improving health, fitness and simplifying your life. Leo recently posted a nice piece called “where in the world do I start?” I’d say, well, how about you start by reading it? That’s a great place to start. heh heh. Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.

Post a comment! Let me know what you are going to do this summer to scale down your to do lists and make realistic strides towards getting things done while disappointing one person a day. 


3 Responses to Chip away at your “to do” lists

  1. Françoise says:

    Merci Maryse!

  2. Françoise, you give great examples of how you integrate your learnings into concrete application in order to take a new perspective. On my part, I have learned to go with the natural flow of the seasons and the special energy that comes with each. My professional life slows down only marginally in the summer and I pay special attention to areas of life that I can modulate in accord with the seasons.
    In late spring and summer I don’t attend to any indoor home improvement project unless it is an emergency. It is time to savor the warm days and my energy lends itself to a slower pace in personal dimensions of my life. I keep my schedule light for plenty of outdoors times such as longer breakfasts on the deck, leisurely conversations with friends on the patio of coffee shops, longs walks in the early morning. I let go of indoor activities such as yoga classes for a couple of months and tasks are for the garden. The trap for me is the landscaping ‘bug’ that bites me sooner or later with bigger plans than intended. The practice of embracing imperfection helps me here.
    When fall comes, my energy changes with the cooler days and this is when I get the momentum to expand again in many areas of my life. Personal and professional plans take shape, new projects take hold. Catching up with the To-do do list and renovations come more naturally during the cold winter months.
    Regardless of this approach I often feel that I have more to do than time permits in any season, so I will adopt the idea of selecting three reasonable projects at any one time: one urgent, one emergent and one that will make me happy every time I see the results. I think this can be a great way to streamline in all domains of life

  3. Jennifer fitzgerald says:

    I am excited to have followed your link & am now signed up for Dr. Fogg’s 3 tiny habits for next week. It will be hard to work on ‘tiny’ habits but I think the premise is firm – baby steps first!



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