Spring is coming and our to-do lists are starting to get made. To-do lists are an adult version of a magical letter to Santa. They are full of hope and good intentions. We pull from the buffet of tasks that are floating around our minds and fill the page with all we want to accomplish.
But once these lists become overwhelming, we tend to push our personal needs to the bottom and prioritize the tasks of external obligations. Our work to-dos take precedence over self-care to-dos.
I understand that there are things that “need to get done” — the perceived obligations of work, projects, and other responsibilities. But how can you create to-do lists that don’t require sacrificing your health and well-being?
In order to answer this question, there are a several facts you need to keep in mind:
Your to-do list does NOT exist in a vacuum. Your to-do list exists within your greater lifestyle and obligations. Often, when creating our lists, we forget that to include our commutes, cooking and eating, spending time with our families, sleeping, and relaxing.
By not prioritizing self-care, we pay with our health to complete these tasks. It may take two weeks or two months, but you will eventually notice that you are not running at your full capacity. Mental clarity may decrease, pain and digestive complaints may increase, and overall quality of life and relationships may begin to suffer.
You may need to ask for help. This may include help figuring out a more efficient approach to tackling the tasks on your list, or help managing the tasks themselves so you don’t give up your quality of life.
To start making smarter lists — and sticking with them — in the context of your life, I recommend you make a MASTER TO-DO LIST that includes your self-care “non-negotiables.” Your list of non-negotiables might include:
- Go to sleep by 9 p.m.
- Get a minimum of eight hours of sleep.
- Get at least 30 minutes of exercise each day.
- Eat two home-cooked meals each day.
- Read to my kids before bed.
- Have family dinner every night at the dinner table.
- Meet with friends at least once a week.
Your master to-do list will act as a foundation that you can plan the rest of your to-dos around. To get started, create a list of your personal non-negotiables. You MUST keep this list visible when you are creating a list of any other tasks that need to get done. (If you are going to sacrifice one of your non-negotiables to get another task done, do so consciously: Highlight the sacrificial self-care to-do and make a note of the higher-priority task.)
Once you have your list, look at your calendar and block off time for these self-care items. Parkinson’s Law tells us “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” By creating stricter boundaries around how you spend your time, you might notice you are more efficient overall and better able to check off all the items on your to-do list without sacrificing your self-care.