Tuesday, November 17, 2020

When the To-Do List Feels Unmanageable

 As Madison grows, I'm finding that she's ready to absorb more "life lessons". Plenty of our time in car, or early in the morning as we drink tea together, or at night as she's getting ready for bed is spent talking about how to behave and how to act now that she's leaving her "kid" years behind. I really love it. We talk about how to take care of yourself, how to treat people, how to deal with different situations, and how to juggle a busy schedule. 

She's not really leaving the kid years yet. I'm not saying that she's ready to be a teenager at 10. In many ways, I'm thrilled that she still enjoys her American Girl dolls and other toys. I don't want her to grow up too fast. But as she encounters situations in her life, I like knowing that she can come to me. This is actually the perfect sweet spot. She has these "grown up" situations and yet she still wants to come to me.

Recently, our conversation was semi-school, semi-home life centered. She had gotten behind on her schoolwork because she'd had an appointment in the middle of the day. Normally I have enough advance notice to adjust schoolwork accordingly, but this appointment was last minute. She was overwhelmed with what she needed to get done, according to her agenda. She was also trying to balance that with her daily chores, including a room that was beginning to get out of control. Plus, she was trying to figure out how to fit in her dance practice. She was looking at a list that felt unmanageable.

Oh honey. You have the right mom for this.

I think most moms, and really, most adults, have dealt with a to-do list that feels so unmanageable that you can't fathom even beginning it. A long list of tasks can feel completely overwhelming. And when it doesn't get done, you feel even more overwhelmed. And sometimes, that causes you (ok, ME) to just shut down.

So I told her to take a break, and we made tea, and sat down together to strategize. And I shared with her a few tips that I use when the lists feel overwhelming.

Chunk it Up

I'm a big fan of breaking a list into little manageable chunks. I reminded her that I'd done this with their schoolwork. Look at that long list and pick three things. We debated the merits of getting a big task crossed off against several small things. But the takeaway from this is to take that list and break it down. I might not be able to handle twenty things. But I can handle three. Then, when those three are done and I'm feeling accomplished, I'll choose a few more.

Set the Timer

This is a trick of mine that works for a long list. It sounds like it's a recipe for disaster, but I swear, it works. Let's say I have an hour before I have to go somewhere. I'll choose four things from my list and give myself fifteen minutes for each (of course, I change things up depending on what's on the list). When my timer goes off, I move on, no matter what. If I "beat the timer", I give myself a little reward. Knowing that I'm only doing something for a set amount of time stops me from getting bogged down. 

This is PERFECT when the girls work on their rooms. You have ten minutes on laundry. When the timer goes off, you have ten minutes to pick up books. Then ten minutes to get the doll clothes put away. If you beat the clock, you earn a reward. If you don't finish, move on to the next job anyway. It keeps them focused, it provides an actual goal, and it stops them from getting overwhelmed by a "clean up your room" task. 

Decide What's Important

In our homeschool, if you get behind in math, you're sunk. I have no idea why, since each day's work is very manageable, but playing catch up with math leads to more tears that anything else and can completely throw us off for DAYS. So when we look at the to-do list, we focus on what's important and needs to have priority. Do you have your private lesson for your dance solo? Then practice makes the priority list. Do you have a lot of schoolwork? Math gets top billing. This stops you from focusing too much on the things that aren't important. We broke Madison's list into three categories: must do, should do, can do. 

Did Madison get everything done that day? Nope. But she didn't cry, didn't get overwhelmed, and she got enough done where she was able to catch up before long. 

Sometimes, the best part of teaching Madison how to navigate life is that it reminds ME how to navigate life. I'm not perfect, and she certainly won't be. But we have each other, and we can manage it together.

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