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The to-do list

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

My paper security blanket

Every night, before I go to bed, I write out a to-do list for the following day. Most nights, it's astonishingly long. I don't know if this is a sign that I am overly organized or I take on too much or what.

My paper security blanket

To-do lists are, of course, an excellent organizational tool. Provided you actually make them! I missed writing my list last Sunday night. I was so tired from the weekend that I fell asleep on the couch. The next day I missed a dentist appointment. Figures.

But my to-do list is as much a comfort item as an organizational tool. I almost feel naked if it's not in my bag or close by, and I depend on it to help me get through my day. (Seems like the "senior moments" started in earnest when the birthdays ticked to 40). The days I don't have the list with me, I find myself a little lost. What was it I needed to do? Where? Huh?

When things are crazy busy, I cling to the list a little more tightly. It helps me remember to keep putting one foot in front of the other and to keep going. It helps me keep my head up. The lists become lists of goals as much as tasks to tick off as completed.

All the things a mom does

Lately, though, the to-do list is not just one list. It's several, including one list detailing the other lists I need to write out. Clearly, I'm reaching critical mass on what is going on in my life. How much is too much?

So what kinds of things are on my to-do list(s)?

There's the daily to-do list reminding me to go to the dry cleaner or call the vet or fax in those insurance form or make an appointment for an oil change. It also includes lists of people to whom I owe calls or emails or actual snail mail letters.

There's the garden to-do list, helping me prioritize which beds need weeding first (and worst!) and reminding me that I need to fertilize the climbing hydrangea and consider what needs to go into that still bare spot at the far end of the yard.

There's the house to-do list, including noting which area is most overdue for a thorough scrub, reminding me that the kids' bookcases need a sorting out, and by the way, the seventeen year old toaster just died and we need a new one.

There's the summer projects to-do list, most of which has been transferred over from last summer. There's some painting and general house maintenance that needs to be addressed. So that some of it actually gets done this summer, I need to make a note on my main to do list to prioritize this list.

There's the kid to-do list: things kid-related that I need to accomplish. Research what the kids need for day camps this summer, figure out if Sunshine is old enough for her own library card (she's been asking for one), think about whether we want to adjust how we handle allowances going forward, brainstorm birthday party ideas. And so on.

There's my super personal to-do list. It has things like take a walk and take the camera with me, find time to read another chapter in that book, remember to thank Alfs for helping with dinner last night, make notes of favorite books from childhood so I can get them for the boys, figure out a date night for my husband and me, and so on.

Phew!

Enough is enough

When the to-do lists get too long or too numerous, it's my signal that I need to step back, take a deep breath and prioritize. As much as I want to do everything, and as much as the list helps me do a lot of things, I can't do everything. It's physically and emotionally impossible. It's then that I need to prioritize getting my list back to just one, highly prioritized list, and delegating other items as best as I can. Tonight I'll pour a glass of wine, sit down with all my lists, take some deep, cleansing breaths and consolidate to one.

Amid all the craziness, it can be easy to put off that very important, centering task. But I am sure I'll get it done. After all, it's on my to-do list.

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