Like most people in these crazy pandemic times, I’ve found my life thrown into a constant state of flux.
When I was laid off from my office job in July, I switched to helping my husband with his business. This threw me off track, and it set off a chain of changes that were hard to handle.
I also ended up publishing a book that I didn’t plan while editing another book. I felt the urge to create art and all kinds of other things but still needed to wash the dishes and clean the bathroom. I had friends and family to catch up with…
I was overwhelming myself. Some things were important. Others could wait. And I needed to stop and take a step back to figure out the difference between the two.
When life changes like this, I have to restructure the way I plan and arrange my time.
At first, doing this pained me. I had a planner setup in Workflowy that was perfect. But all of a sudden, it didn’t work anymore. When circumstances change, planning systems that worked for a long time can be rendered useless. This has happened to me before, and it was annoying to be in that place again.
However, I muddled through it, and now I’m back at a point where I feel like I’m getting done what I need to, while still having time for myself.
So here are my tips for planning your todo’s and time when life gets crazy.
[Note: This post contains affiliate links from bookshop.org in support of indie bookstores. I earn a commission from these links, but this does not affect what you pay, and I only link to books that I’ve enjoyed.]
I stepped away from the highly customizable planning apps. This was good because, at the moment, it was hard to tell exactly what it was I needed.
Instead, I started keeping a simple daily todo list on one page of my notebook. I paired that with a basic calendar app on my phone for future events.
I only put on my calendar things that must be done on a specific day or that have important due dates.
Take a break from complicated setups, be it digital or analog. Strip down to a daily to-do list and calendar for a little while. Doing this made it easier for me to think more about my tasks than how my planning system wasn’t working. And really a todo list and calendar are all that’s needed.
Take one day at a time
Limiting the scope of my todo list to the current day only did much for reducing my overwhelm. I did not plan out my entire week or month. Just one day at a time.
I only wrote the tasks that I felt like I absolutely must take care of that day. Not things that would be “nice to do” or what I would “like to do.”
I focused on what HAD to be done today.
For example, if the bathroom was looking really crazy and I felt like I could not go another day without cleaning it, I would add that chore to my list. If I had to go grocery shopping that day because the fridge would be completely empty if I didn’t, then that would go on the list too.
Every morning, I focused on the essential items for the day. As I did this, my list of “Must Do” things got shorter and shorter. Now I feel the peace of not only getting things done but also having some free time to do what I want.
I confess, there are some days full of doing what I have to do. On days like that, that’s when I have to pull out the audiobooks, podcasts, and music so I can survive.
But overall, my days have more breathing room, and I feel less stressed. After getting a handle on the most pressing items, then I had more mental space to set some priorities.
Figure out priorities
The changes in my life left my mind feeling like scrambled eggs. Now that I had my essential todos under-control, I was ready to think about which things I should put first in my day. What gets priority?
At this time I was reading the book, Old Money, New Woman by Byron Tully, and in it, he mentions the importance of having a list of priorities. He shared a sample priority list, and I was happy to see that it actually matched well with what I felt needed to be my priorities.
So here I’m sharing my list of priorities, adapted from his example list. Maybe it’ll help you to design a list that fits your current life situation.
- Health (Not only physical but also mental and spiritual)
- Friends & Family
- Doing work I love
- Living below my means
I love having this list because
- It has helped me to keep myself healthy, even though my life is busy.
- I start my day off with the things that are the most important. When I take care of my top priorities first, I can focus more on writing, art, and whatever else I want to do.
- I have better focus. Before I get lost in my hobbies, I’ve already taken care of the things that linger in my mind, such as cleaning the kitchen or exercising.
- I’m better at making space for those I care about before diving into things I enjoy doing alone.
I also think it’s interesting how this list encourages mixing. It helps me to see that I can do things to improve my health while being with my friends and family. I can also try doing the work I love along with my friends. As I get involved in my hobbies and writing, I make sure that I enjoy them in a way that doesn’t hurt my health or my relationships with others. It’s neat how the priorities are interlocking.
Set one goal to work towards
I decided to set the three-month goal of publishing my next book.
This goal works for me because
- I’m already working on it.
- Three months is easy to visualize. I can clearly see the full goal (publish my book by November/December), break it down into three smaller parts (Next month, be done with editing, the month after that do artwork, and the month after that final formatting…) and then use that information to plan what I want to work on each week.
- It’s only one goal. My brain can handle that.
Do you have one goal that you can work towards, even if things in your life are going crazy? Can you work on reaching that goal in a time frame that is easy to visualize (like in a few months)? If it’s too large to reach in a few months, is there a way to shrink it down so you can?
Having one goal has helped me to feel like I can still make meaningful progress on something important to me, despite the craziness. I think that’s vital to have when your life feels unhinged. It’s centering.
Place value over task completion
Recently I was reading an article from the Freedom.to blog (it’s an awesome blog! I highly recommend following it) entitled The Point of Productivity: Is Your Understanding of Productivity Holding You Back?.
My favorite thing about this article is the insight that in this life, there will always be more to do. The task list is never-ending. The idea of producing more all the time or getting more done all the time will just lead to burn out because there is no endpoint.
Today, the value of what you do is more important than how much you do. This is something I deeply believe in. This modern world is designed in a way that we can be doing stuff 24/7. But by taking the time to ask yourself, “How much of what I did today is valuable?” it really brings the reality of your day into focus.
You could spend the day reading the news, reading social media, firing off comments, responding, and liking. You can spend the day caught in the videos YouTube keeps serving up in autoplay. If you’re a blogger, you could spend the day changing the layout and visuals of your blog for the umpteenth time. But how much value did those activities add to your day?
You could also spend a day napping, reading, and spending time with family and friends. You can think about how what you have to share can help others. How much value did those activities add to your day?
Thinking this over made me realize that things I thought were a waste of time, really aren’t (such as napping. It’s really good for my body). It’s also helped me to see that things that keep me engaged consistently (like, checking email and social media), isn’t necessarily valuable.
When life is crazy this kind of focus helps with seeing which tasks are truly important, and which ones can be put off indefinitely.
Remembering what’s valuable is stabilizing, and it’s a great way to let go of the unnecessary.
So these are my simple tips for restructuring your time when life takes a dive into the deep end. If you have any other techniques for keeping your head on straight when things get crazy, feel free to share!