Rethinking Your To-Do List During the Pandemic

Many of us are feeling fragmented right about now. Regular holiday season stress on top of pandemic anxiety has created a cocktail for disaster. Are you having trouble focusing? Seeing an uptick in mistakes or feeling as if you are doing sub-stellar work? Do you end each day wondering where the time went, or feel that you are simply going through the motions?

If you are anything like me, your mind is a racing screenplay of the dozens of things we feel we need to accomplish. At the start of the pandemic, I had big plans for tackling long overdue projects at home while working remotely (I’ve not been overly successful on that front). The holidays have brought their own set of challenges while I try to figure out how to celebrate as our out-of-town family will not be joining us this year.

For military spouses dealing with deployment concerns, facing imminent PCS orders, or spending holidays far away from friends and family - this time can be even more overwhelming.

Writing things down used to clear my head space – not only for future thoughts, but for current focus. However, I now find that I can write list after list and my head is still full of constant white noise “to-do” chatter. Taking up yoga has helped slow my morning brain down, but as the day progresses, my thoughts and anxiety ramp up and before I know it, it is 6:30 in the evening and I’m not sure where the day has gone, or even what I accomplished during those important hours.

Thinking back on it, I have always been a list maker. Now, I even find myself getting up in the middle of the night to jot some notes down – otherwise, I find myself repeating them in my head so as not to forget…and how restful is that?

My list is a continual “brain dump” and can get rather long at times. I used to be able to bucket tasks into short term and long-term goals. But currently there are dozens of things to sort through and prioritize and it’s unclear to me where to start. I have analysis paralysis. Any extra task thrown my way can send me into a spiral where nothing really gets done.

I have found that creating a separate short list first thing in the morning has been helpful. I start out each day asking myself, “what tasks will make me feel accomplished today?” My goal is to end each day feeling successful, so I mindfully include a reasonable amount of tasks that can be completed in the allotted time span. 

Narrowing my focus on these items helps me to feel more in control of the hours in my day. Instead of spiraling from one thought or activity to the next, I am able to zone in on the tasks I set out for the day. It is my recipe for success.

Yes, I still have my long list and I add to it daily. But I pull from this list ONLY the items that need to be done on that specific day. While I’ve often been described as a big-picture thinker, I’m training my focus more on the day to day.

If I am honest, some of the things on my long list may never get done. And one day, maybe I will permanently remove them. But for now, I feel more in control just knowing that I have everything written down. And that is something I need right now.

Other ingredients in my recipe for success? Working to my strengths. If I am in the correct frame of mind to tackle a certain task, it goes much easier and faster than if I force myself to complete it. I also like to start with the most difficult things first. I get them out of the way, at the time of day when I feel most capable. These most-dreaded tasks can weigh heavy on the heart and mind - so knock them out and check them off early!

Whenever possible, I delegate items to other household members. My children have been able to help with a few things, and my spouse, when he's able, is more than happy to pitch in. By delegating I realize that I have to give up control of that particular task - but a quick look at te remaining items needing my attention reassures me that there are plenty of other things that I need to handle directly. I can let go of a few.

My goal is to live each day with intention. I do not want to let the days fly by. And I also make sure my daily to-do's contain activities that feed all parts of me – my work life, relationships, home life and, most importantly, my self-care.

Life cannot be all work and no play. And occasionally, it’s important to ditch the list and do something you enjoy – even if it’s taking a nap! Honestly, there will be days where we might not feel up to tackling one item. And that is okay. Let’s live a life of grace, and acknowledge that we are here to enjoy life, not just check things off of our lists.

Stay well and have a wonderful holiday!