Post by contributing writer, Erin Long
My husband walks through the door, returning from a day’s work, and asks The Worst Question Ever:
“What did you do today?”
What did I DO today?
Well, I answered three-and-a-half million of the four million questions the preschooler asked, cleaned up innumerable pee puddles made by the supposedly potty-trained toddler, and spent every waking moment feeding the newborn.
Okay, so maybe it wasn’t that bad but it felt like it.
When my estimation of my day more closely resembles a black hole vortex of mundane tasks than opportunities to nurture and cherish those I love and myself, I know it’s time to employ the practice of the reverse to-do list.
Many of us write a to-do list every day.
We decide what needs to be done and, with great hope and anticipation, we write down each task and accompany it with a little box that beckons to be completed with a check mark.
But instead of determining what needs to be done in a single day, a reverse to-do list takes account of everything you did.
It keeps track of your successes, celebrates your wins and sheds light on where you need to manage your time better.
Clean the toilet? Write it down.
Answer emails? Write it down.
Check Facebook? Write it down.
Pick the kids up from school? Write it down.
Snuggle on the couch with your spouse? Write it down.
Whatever you do throughout the day goes on the reverse to-do list. You can choose to be as detailed as you feel you need but I find the more detailed, the better.
By writing down everything you did during a day, you can evaluate how you spent your time and either recognize that you did get a lot done today or see what activities sucked away your time.
Most likely it’ll be a bit of both.
For many of us we have to actually see a break-down of what we do with our time to be able to accurately evaluate how we spend it.
You might see that you spend a lot of time on an activity that doesn’t bring you life, that too many hours are spent on tasks that don’t add value or help you reach your goals.
Or maybe you’ll see you really do get a lot done in a day even if your to-do list remains mostly unchecked. Maybe you’ll realize you invest in relationships and you can’t predict how long you’ll spend with someone.
This practice usually reveals positives and negatives, and it’s then that you can be encouraged in the areas you do well in and begin to address those where you struggle.
When you know what you spend your time on, you can make changes so you invest in what’s really important to you. Rather than aimlessly going about your day, you can live with intention and do what matters.
Whether it’s raising your children well, advancing your career, or focusing on your health that’s what is important to you, it needs to be reflected in how you spend your time.
A reverse to-do list doesn’t need to be a daily practice. It’s something to do when you realize you’re not living in line with what’s most important to you or you begin to wonder just what it is that you spend your time doing.
That was me a couple of weeks ago.
I felt like I was going-going-going all the time yet I wasn’t getting anything done. I knew it was time for a reverse to-do list.
As I spent a day jotting down what I did I saw that I spent more hours than a full-time job feeding my newborn son. That was when I realized everything that wasn’t an absolute necessity had to go. If it doesn’t involve keeping my children alive or kindling the spark in my marriage, it is not a priority for this season.
It wasn’t until I wrote things down that I understood just how far I had to pare down my activities.
Because I knew exactly how I spent my time, I was able to align my life with what’s important to me and what I’m capable of doing right now.
Like me, when you take a good pulse of what you do in a day you might see something you didn’t expect. But you have to have a thorough account first. That’s why I love the reverse to-do list.
As you go about the rest of your day, choose to do what matters to you and let everything else slip away. You probably won’t miss it.