You wake up, and over your morning cup of coffee you are stricken by sheer panic: today’s to-do list. Wrestling in Jell-O with an alligator seems a simpler task. I have… the solution. No, it’s not lighting the list on fire; that just makes your house smell like a campground. Eww.
When I’m faced with a myriad of daunting and/or mundane tasks, I make a list. This is not any ordinary list, mind you. This list is special.
I find that I have trouble gathering the motivation even to begin attacking the items on my lists. Sometimes, it’s because I’m being stubborn and childish (I don’t want to do these things, cue foot stomp and pout), but other times I don’t really know where to begin because the list is so long. This is when guerilla list making tactics need to be employed. Here’s an example of my morning list today:
Did you happen to catch the corny items on my list? Brush teeth. Make cup of tea. Enjoy cup of tea. Don’t freak out. Those items are there for a few reasons:
* Beginning a list with things you habitually do is a great way to rev-up the motivational juices you’ll need to attack the rest of your list.
* After 4-6 legitimate items, throw something silly in there that will make you smile or giggle when you come to it later in the day.
My reasoning here is simple: it’s a mind game. If you write something goofy to yourself that is sure to make you laugh, it helps to alleviate some of your stress in that moment, allows you to successfully check something else off the list, and it provides you with a lighter outlook on the next few items.
* Don’t freak out is on my list every couple of days. Why? I put it there to check myself.
I bury stress and have to keep one hell of a poker face on at all times. I work with kids ages 11-18 on a daily basis; my stress is not their problem. What happens, though, is I start the shallow breathing, then the shoulder and neck pain inevitably follows, and before I know it, my eyebrows rise to somewhere near the ceiling fan.
By putting don’t freak out on the list, it forces me in that moment to quickly assess my stress level: if I’m not freaked out, I check it off. If my stress level is high, aka freaking out, I do some deep breathing, grab a cup of tea, go for a quick walk, anything to relax. Then I check it off the list. It’s a method of re-calibration for your state of mind.
Did you notice I gave you an example of my morning list? Like so many of you, my days are usually filled with tasks that each eat up a lot of time. On those days, I carry two lists with me: morning and everything else. Often, things from the morning list get added to the “everything else” list, and sometimes even get shoved to tomorrow. It happens. The world won’t end, I promise.
I always feel I have more time in the afternoon than I have in the morning. Do you feel that way, too? Maybe it’s because I work nearly nonstop, whether I’m out at a school or a gig, or at home writing or practicing; I’m always working. I don’t have kids, but I imagine the lists parents have would stupefy me. I’m practically breaking out in hives just thinking about it.
My afternoon list is structured no differently than my morning list. It is replete with my silly self-checks (stop being so serious) and relaxation reminders (breathing in AND out is helpful, psycho).
There is immense satisfaction for me in looking at a list that is either fully, or nearly fully, crossed out. I’m such a visual person that seeing what I’ve accomplished in a given day motivates me to do more the next.
This is also a great exercise for younger adults who are just starting out. Lists like these are a great way to give structure to your day in a manageable format that you tailor to your own personality. Once you start realizing how effective you are (or aren’t) at accomplishing tasks, the better you’ll become at managing the day-to-day with little residual stress.
Let me leave you with something I tell my students and colleagues when they’re overwhelmed: Tomorrow was made to catch the crumbs that fall through the cracks of today.
What will be on your guerilla list? Just remember: don’t freak out.