My (Crazy) To-Do List Problem

I write, therefore I do? Not exactly Read more

To-do list

Confession: I have a Post-it note problem. Actually, correction: I had a Post-it note problem … and then that slowly morphed into a Google docs problem … and then that slowly morphed into a fancy notebook problem. I keep thinking that if I just continue to write things down in increasingly organized, increasingly serious and appealing ways, that I will actually, you know … do them.

So far, it’s not really working. (But I do now have enough fancy notebooks to open my own Paper Source, so there’s that.)  

The turning point from checking things off on a series of Post-its stuck to every surface in sight to NOT checking things off in my many, many Moleskines happened sometime around the moment I became a mother. That’s when the need to write reminders to myself about everything I needed to do suddenly could not be contained on two-inch sticky notes or the backs of envelopes or whatever other scraps of paper I used to use. As a new mom, I felt compelled to keep track of nursing schedules, of my daily household chores, of the weekly to-do cleaning list, of how many times the child pooped in a day … everything. I don’t need to tell you that this wasn’t just about keeping track of the child’s well-being and my chore list — it was about creating a feeling of order in a non-ordered time.

Fast-forward a few years, and you’d think I would have relaxed a bit as life became a bit more normal, but in fact the habit has actually gotten more intense: I have “buy a new ‘to-do’ notebook!” in one of my current to-do notebooks. It’s gotten meta, you guys. My lists have expanded beyond scheduling the child, even beyond the boring daily necessities like “Get mouthwash at CVS”; “get sitter for Saturday.” I still have that type of boring stuff on the lists, sure, but in addition, I’d say that my to-do memos have become somewhat, shall we say, aspirational.

What do I mean by aspirational? Well, here’s a sampling of notes I have written to myself in various notebooks in recent weeks:

–150 minutes of aerobic exercise a week!!
–Polish silver !!
–Organic Swiffer! (NOTE: I read about a way to make your own organic wet Swiffer pads. I should obviously do this.*)
–Print out photos!! (NOTE: Said photos are the 2,500 or so pictures I have of my son in digital formats. None of them exist in real life, anywhere, which makes me feel like a Pitiful Mother.)
–Baby book!! (NOTE: This is a reminder to back-fill the last two year’s worth of my son’s life in his baby book. See: Pitiful Mother.)
–One letter/week!! (NOTE: It occurred to me how delightful it would be to send handwritten notes to distant relatives just to say hi, or to former teachers to say thanks for inspiring me. So what if I have a job, a house and a toddler? It’s just a letter! It is important to communicate with people you care about!)
— Recipes!! (NOTE: This means to flip through one of the two dozen perfectly lovely cookbooks I own to find new healthy and easy recipes for my family instead of relying solely on Blue Apron and BLTs.)

You will notice a few things about this list, maybe:

  1. I am obviously trying to trick my future self into being excited about things like silver-polishing and exercise with the overuse of exclamation points.
  2. That I actually think I will ever polish silver. (Maybe when my mom comes to visit, she’ll bring some silver polish and commandeer the job?)
  3. Something about a new page in a fresh notebook clearly makes me delusional.

You would think that this behavior would make me feel bad about myself. Here I am, with pages and pages filled with things I would really like to do, pages that reflect the type of together, hyper-organized person that I’d really like to be, that I regularly trick myself into believing I AM, as if all it takes is a tidy little reminder to actually be that person. Only I’m not really that person. Not right now, anyway. And probably not next week, either. No, I am just a person with a lot of plans to get stuff done. And a sh**ton of notebooks.

Weirdly, though, instead of making me feel like a big fat failure, the sight of so many pages filled with grand plans fills me with a sort of glee. (Yes, I just defined hanging pictures on a wall as a “grand plan.” This is parenthood.) Even if I can’t get to it for six months, it feels good to hold tight to the things that aren’t immediate needs, to write them down so that I can remember that, yes, some things need doing, but maybe not right this minute. Maybe I’ll magically find the time, maybe I won’t. But it’s there, waiting for me when I’m ready.

So much of motherhood is immediate — diaper changes now; suppertime now; Baby Advil run now — that to have the ability to catalog things you know you can eventually get to is almost … freeing.Yes, 2,500 baby photos. I know you’re there. You and I will have our day sometime in 2016. I won’t forget. I’ve written you in four different notebooks now! 

And speaking of grand plans: If we are parents, we are doing grand, great things on a daily basis. Dressing a kid, feeding a kid, paying attention to a kid. They don’t feel as satisfying, sometimes, as painting the bathroom, but they are also so great that I don’t even need to write them down to remember to do them, to encourage myself to do them. Some things are too big and important for any list –and without fail, those are the things that get done. (Hey! That should probably be imprinted on the cover of some notebook somewhere.) 
*By the by, I did finally make the DIY Swiffers, and it was awesome! Here’s the directions I followed, if you want to add it to your list. You can let me know in 6 to 8 months how that worked out.