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A “To-Do” List for Life

Last time I wrote about the new format of to-do list that I created for juggling lots of different tasks at work.  Now I’m going to suggest how you can create a similar list to create some general balance in your life.  At the very least, it will help you become aware of the areas of your well-being that you are sacrificing to the detriment of any true work-life balance.

Most of us tend to identify ourselves first and foremost with our jobs.  When asked what we do, we reflexively answer “I’m a lawyer” sometimes even when it pains us to say it.  But we have lots of other roles too:  in our family lives we are husbands, wives, partners, parents, children, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles.  We have friends and we are friends to others.  We may be runners, swimmers or cyclists.  We may play music or write short stories or paint or draw.   We love to read or go to the cinema or see theatre or live music.  All these facets of our lives have to be taken into account and given some attention or we will feel a lack of balance.

My old style “to-do” list used to reflect this imbalance quite starkly.  Anything that wasn’t work related would get listed as “personal” and effectively downgraded in priority.  Items of “personal admin” such as tax returns, buying a card for a friend’s birthday, even going to the doctor or dentist would get added to my list, but then get pushed further and further down, always a source of stress since I knew I should do them, but somehow always given less attention than the work-related items on my list.  Dealing with a few of these “personal” items would actually help me focus better on my work, yet ironically, time and again, I would let them slide until they were so urgent that I could no longer ignore them.  Most of my friends got used to receiving “Belated Birthday” greetings, but the taxman tends to be less forgiving, as does your body when you ignore health warning signs.

So, having re-arranged my work “to-do” list, I did the same thing for other areas of my life.  I use a sheet of A3 paper, but A4 will work if you write small and of course you can do this electronically if you’re so inclined.  The column headings you choose will depend on your own life circumstances.  Currently, my list contains the following categories:

Health / Fitness

Family

Friends

Personal Admin

Writing/Creativity

Miscellaneous

I have set some fitness goals to keep myself in shape for surfing, a sport I am dreadful at but love doing.  You may have different health and fitness goals.  It doesn’t matter what you put in, the key is to list what you want to get done during the week and to do it.  For me, my Health / Fitness column has  “swim” written three times, “yoga / stretching” written three times and “push-ups” written four times.  I cross off one instance each time I do it.  At the end of the week, I have a clear picture of how much exercise I actually did, even I fall short of doing everything I had planned.

Under “Family” and “Friends” I list the people I want to call or email or do something nice for or have a drink or dinner with during the week ahead.  I keep this separate from “Personal Admin” chores like dry-cleaning or shopping or things that you do for the family but which are a bit more routine and less social.  The Family and Friends columns came as a revelation to me because I realised it was in this category that I was completely out of balance without even being aware of it.  I knew I should be exercising (but wasn’t), but I wasn’t even aware how little effort I was making at keeping in touch with friends and being involved in the lives of my family.  Putting these on your list as things you actually want to do during the week helps you get some perspective.  It elevates their importance in your week’s priorities making you more likely to get them done.

Another area we tend to ignore is our creative/fun-loving side.  Think of the things you used to really love to do before you got absolutely swamped at work.  Add some of them to your list.  It could be going to the cinema or a concert or going for a country walk or visiting a museum.  Even if you think there’s no way you’re going to get a chance to do it this week, put it down there as a reminder to yourself that this too is important to you and you want to do it.  (I’m not talking about “Bucket List” items here, but actual, realistic things that you can do if you are able to squeeze just a bit more time and energy out of your days.) The awareness of what you’re not accomplishing on your “to-do” list – but would really like to – will help you focus on what’s truly important to you and what you are depriving yourself of.  If something is on there for a month and you still haven’t done it, ask yourself if you really want to do it and, if the answer is yes, then ask yourself why you haven’t made time for it.  It’s not about beating yourself up about these things, it’s about helping you to define priorities and becoming aware of imbalances.

This is what work-life balance is all about.  Your work “to-do” list is for work.  But by giving yourself an “at-a-glance” view of all the other things you do, would like to do, or truly need to do outside of work, you can start to develop a much greater awareness of areas of your life where you need to redress the balance.  You will be surprised at how much you accomplish in each category and you may even find that you squeeze in a few little treats that you’ve been holding back from yourself.

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