I have always had a love/hate relationship with to do lists. They definitely help me stop my mind from swirling around, thinking of everything I have to do. However, I can get really immersed in them. There was a time when my to-do list read more like a novel. And not a good one.

I’m great at making to do lists. I’m not so great at getting everything on my to do list done. There’s just SO MUCH that has to get done.

How can you get a handle on it?

By throwing out your to do list. That’s right. I’ve thrown out my to do list. I actually feel more productive and get more done. My mind is clearer than it used to be, and I’m not overwhelmed by the encyclopedia of things that I have to do every day.

Here’s how I did it.

Schedule Anything That Needs A Reminder

Don’t even put it on a to-do list. Schedule it in your phone, and then set yourself two reminders. (If it’s something that requires more effort, like finding library books, I set the reminder for a couple of days before the date).

Then, it’s off your mind. I use the calendar function on my iPhone to do this.

Get Rid Of Meaningless To-Dos

There are a lot of things that you think you have to do every day. However, if you got rid of half of them, you probably wouldn’t even notice that you weren’t doing them anymore. It’s hard not to be attached to the things that we think we have to do. However, do you really need to bathe your kids every day? Do you really need to clean your kids’ rooms every day? Cross off at least half of the things on your list and see what happens. You just gave yourself more sanity.

Pick ONE Thing

You have so much to do every day. Your to-do list is a mile long. It’s overwhelming, and you never get to anything. If you’ve scheduled some things in your phone, there’s less to put on your to-do list anyway. Give the to-do list the old heave-ho by just picking one thing that, if you got it done, you’d be satisfied. Everything else is just icing on the cake.

Automate It

If you automate certain tasks, you won’t have to put them on your to-do list. That would be like putting “brush my teeth” on your list. You don’t have to do that because it’s a routine thing. Make the other things that are making you crazy routine too.

Some of the things that I automate are:

  • Making the kids lunches – I simply pull out their plastic lunch containers and keep them out any time I’m cooking. I fill them up as I chop veggies and pull food out of the fridge.
  • Laundry – I’m not going to lie; my husband does most of the laundry. However, I have to keep up with it too. Instead of spending a day doing it, I do it in passing. I’ll grab three or four things and fold them as I walk, putting them away when I get to the bedroom.
  • Kids cleaning up after themselves – This is the hardest one, because it takes extra reminders. However, one routine we’ve gotten into the habit of following is emptying out lunchboxes and school bags when the kids get home from school. The kids do it themselves; it’s one thing less for me to do.
  • Emptying the dishwasher – Do you know that it only takes about 2.5 minutes to do this tedious task? I used to put it off—like for my entire life—because I hated doing it. Then, I timed myself. It doesn’t take long. In fact, I like to empty the dishwasher when I’m already in the kitchen, either waiting for a pan to heat up or helping the kids with breakfast.

Give Yourself A Free Hour

No matter how hard I try, I don’t get started with the productive part of my day until 10 a.m. There’s always just a bunch of little shit that gets in the way. So I give this to myself as a free hour. I don’t expect anything to get done during this time, so I’m not disappointed when it doesn’t.

What do I do during this free hour? Sometimes I use it to take time to myself. Shower, meditate, exercise, dance, meet with a friend for coffee—do something fun. Sometimes, I use it to take care of all of the to-dos that are fresh in my mind or nagging at me. If the kitchen is dirty from the night before or the disorganized garage has been bugging me, I’ll take care of it during this time. Or else, I’ll run around the house and do all the little things that would otherwise end up on my to-do list.

Listen—I know your life is crammed full of things to do, and you don’t really HAVE a free hour. But everyone has this in their life somewhere. We just like to ourselves and say “I’m so busy all the time.” It’s true. In fact, there’s a statistic that says mothers actually have more  leisure time today than we used to, yet we think that we have less.

Give Yourself A Busy Hour

Just like I give myself a free hour in the mornings, I give myself a busy hour (or two) in the afternoons. This is the time that the family comes home, the kids need me, I’m making dinner, and there is no way I could relax even if I wanted to.

Since I can’t take a break during this time, I give myself up to the hour. I don’t try to do things for myself. I don’t even try to get extra shit done. I basically try to devote my attention to my kids as I make dinner. I listen to stories about their day, I break up fights, I laugh with them, I ask them to help me out with certain tasks.

Sometimes I’m able to get a few extra things done. This hour always feels rushed, and it always feels chaotic. Because I expect that, I don’t try to make it anything it’s not.

How does this hour help me get rid of my to-do list? For starters, it’s kind of automated. I know there are certain things—like making dinner and putting together lunches and possibly even emptying the dishwasher—that will get done during this time. So I don’t have to put those on my to-do list anymore. If I’m trying to get anything extra done, I try to cram it into this time. It already feels crazy, so why not just keep the momentum going so I can relax later?

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