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How to take charge of your to-do lists

Stressed mom

You’re the CEO of your family: You take care of the kids, the household, and your partner, and with all of that responsibility comes a long list of things that have to get done. And if you’re like most moms, this list seems like it gets longer and longer every day with no end in sight.

Yet with some organization and a different mindset, you can learn to manage it all and even get some time back for yourself. Here are 6 ways to do just that:

1. Make it manageable and specific.
It’s unrealistic to expect yourself to get everything done at once, which is why it’s important to break up your master list into smaller pieces. “You need to set yourself up for success,” said Paula Rizzo, founder of listproducer.com, who’s currently working on a book about lists.
“If you have smaller lists with five or six things on it that have to get done today, it’s more likely to happen,” she said.

Rizzo also suggested using action words which can help you focus on the task at hand and be more productive. So instead of  “go to the grocery store,” write “pick up milk, eggs, and bread.”   

2. Think long-term.
If it’s not imperative that it get done today, or if it requires more research or help from your partner to get it done, although you might be tempted to tackle it now, don’t. “If you keep putting it on your ‘today’ list, you’ll end up feeling like a failure and never getting it done,” said Rizzo. So create another list with long term projects that can be done when you have the time. These future lists can be things to do this week, this month, or even within the next year.  

3. Stay in the moment.
According to Kristine Carlson, author of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff for Moms, we become exhausted by our lists when we’re focusing on the next ten things we have to do rather on what we’re doing right now, in the present moment. Carlson suggests having just 10 minutes a day devoted to a “peaceful practice,” either through deep breathing, meditation, visualization, listening to inspirational music or journaling which helps you to cultivate a calmness that can help you stay focused and grounded throughout the day. “That’s where you’re going to find your maximum amount of presence in what you’re doing, and that’s where you’re going to find your joy,” she said.  

4. Put an end to perfection.
Sure, it feels amazing when you can cross things off your list but sometimes it’s just not realistic. And trying to be a super-mom will only leave you feeling exhausted. “It’s almost a sense of accomplishment to say ‘I can do all of these things’ but I think it it’s even much more commendable to be able to say ‘I can’t do this,’" Rizzo said. So realize that not everything has to get done today and it’s actually ok if you put things on the back burner or simply say “no.” You can also ask your partner, family, or friends for help or hire someone. Try taskrabbit.com.

5. Re-think and re-do.
Life changes every week, so it’s OK to re-write your lists depending on your current schedule. You might find that a certain to-do never gets done, so you may need to put it on a future list, or  even cross it off your list altogether. Evaluate if it’s something you really need to do or something you’re telling yourself you should do.

6. Add another to-do—you!
With all that you have to do, carving out some me-time might seem impossible but it’s vital. “That’s just as important as all the things you get done,” said Carlson.  So go ahead and give yourself permission to workout, get a pedicure or finish reading that novel. “You’re actually a lot happier of a person when you can take care of some of your own needs before you take care of your family, and that’s OK,” she said.

Julie Revelant is a freelance writer specializing in parenting, health, and women's issues and a mom. Learn more about Julie at revelantwriting.com

Julie Revelant is a freelance writer and copywriter specializing in parenting, health, healthcare, nutrition, food and women's issues. She’s also a mom of two. Learn more about Julie at revelantwriting.com.