How I Started Actually Getting Something Done Around This Place

I live to cross things off lists. My idea of heaven is a completely accomplished to-do list. And yet. I was getting nothing done during Will’s nap time. Like, nothing. Unless scrolling through Facebook and Instagram counts as something. Which it does not.

The grocery shopping was getting done and the laundry was clean and dinner was made, but that was mostly all happening when Will was awake. But I’d put him down for his afternoon nap and then be paralyzed by everything I kind of needed to do at some point and that was bouncing around in my head and instead of actually making some headway, I’d just waste the time. I know. I have ONE kid. There is no excuse. If he’s asleep I should pretty much be able to just knock things out.

Kelly linked to this article about the Ivy Lee Method for Productivity. The method is intended to be used by executives, and is super simple:

  1. At the end of the day, write down the 6 most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow. No more than 6 things!
  2. Prioritize those 6 things in order of importance.
  3. When you arrive at work the next morning, concentrate only on the first task and work at it until you are done. Only when you’ve completed the first task should you move to the second.
  4. Tackle the rest of the list in the same way. At the end of the day, move unfinished items to the next day’s list.
  5. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Since my productivity is in the toilet, I decided to try and adapt this method for my life. It simply won’t work strictly as-is for a number of reasons. The first being that the number one job everyday is to love, feed, and keep alive one’s offspring and that is just not something that a person is ever finished with or can check off the list. The second main reason that I think the method needs a bit of adapting for the SAHM is that some tasks, no matter how urgent, simply cannot be done while there is an awake and mobile toddler wreaking havoc. Yes, in an office annoying people stop by your cube to ask questions or interrupt you and new things pop up. But provided you don’t work in an ER, you can probably eliminate interruptions and distractions while you commit to a given task. Small humans, however, completely lack boundaries/self-control/the ability to not accidentally kill themselves. So… can’t just say, “Mama will be with you when she’s done waiting on hold with the Customer Service department at the company who recently recalled your carseat. Can you please feed, entertain, and diaper yourself for two hours? Thanks, sweetie.” Sometimes 15 minutes to accomplish something real quick do present themselves so I can cross something off, but it might not be the most important or urgent item.

It seems to me that the three most important elements of the Ivy Lee Method are simplicity, prioritization, and commitment to the task at hand. I wanted to keep all three in my adaption, so here’s what’s working for me:

  1. Keep 3 to-do lists. One is a master list of all the random things that pop into my head that I need to do at some point: make Will’s 2 year-old well baby visit appointment, submitting hospital receipts for reimbursement from our HSA, pay the dentist, etc. The second is a to-do list for this week. It contains things I need to do every week, like the grocery store, as well other things that aren’t every week but must get done this week, like returning library books. The third list is the nap time to-do list for today.
  2. That nap time to do list follows the Ivy Lee Method. I pick six things I need to accomplish and rank them in terms of importance and work down the list. Barring Will waking up, I can pretty much focus during this time. For the first item, I always do 15 minutes of prayer/spiritual reading because this is the best time not to be interrupted. The rest of the items are usually things that require sustained attention or time, like writing, or phone calls that I need to be able to make without background noise.

I’ll spare you my master to-do list, since it’s practically the length of a short novel. My weekly to do list looked like this:

  1. grocery store
  2. Target
  3. car wash
  4. heartworm preventative prescription- pick up from vet and mail
  5. return library books
  6. call Britax
  7. write letter to Emmanuel (the child we sponsor)
  8. order more dog food

My nap time to-do list for today looked like this:

  1. pray
  2. check and see if new carseat is available to order yet
  3. pay designer final installment
  4. update spreadsheet for house reno
  5. blog
  6. make quiche for tomorrow

Lo and behold, once I disciplined myself to focus on finishing one task before moving on to the next, even if it’s tedious or taking longer than something else would take, I started getting a lot more done. I especially started getting bigger projects accomplished more quickly because I stopped pushing them out of the way in favor of quicker, smaller tasks. It’s also helped me to accomplish things I dread doing. I despise calling people on the phone. Despise. So I always put off chores that require me to call someone. Listing tasks in order of priority and not skipping around helped me to just make the stupid phone call instead of putting it off until I absolutely, positively had to do it.

I’m sure you don’t need directions on how to do stuff, but in case you too are getting nothing done around this place, that’s what working for me!


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