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Monday, November 25, 2013

When the "To Do" List is Way too Long
Laundry is in piles. The Mom Taxi is working overtime traveling in a myriad of directions. Bills are waiting to be paid. Dishes. Meal preparation. House cleaning. A demanding career. A spouse and children who have needs to be met. Friends you value and want to see, yet the calendar is so full. Saying that little two letter word ("no") is so hard. Aging parents that need you. A never ending list of things to do.

The plates are spinning. The juggler is juggling. Any moment this fine tuned juggling act might come crashing to the ground . . . because the reality is, you can only keep up this level of activity for so long before things start to fall apart.

What can we do to keep it from all falling apart?

Remember the Airplane Oxygen Mask Lesson. You know that movie the flight attendants show at the beginning of every flight, the one that tells you a bunch of stuff you hope you never really need to know. On one flight I was traveling with a young child. When they asked the question, "What do you do when the oxygen mask drops?" My immediate response was, "Help the young child put hers on." I was initially appalled when they said, "Put on your own mask first."

"Isn't that selfish?" I thought. But then I realized that if I encountered a difficulty putting her mask on her and I didn't have my own on and I became unconscious, she would be in serious trouble. At that moment I grasped in a way that I never had before the importance of self-care. When we don't take care of ourselves, when our emotional and physical resources are depleted, we cannot care for those we love most. Self-care is very important to our overall well-being and to those we love.

Evaluate priorities. When dealing with a schedule that is overfull and a to do list that is too long, prioritizing helps to weed out what is keeping you from living a balanced, healthy life. Take some time to evaluate your priorities in life. What do you value most? Limit the number of things that you place on this list. I recommend keeping it to 3 or 4 things.

A few years ago, I had 4 things on my list of priorities (relationship with God/self-care, family and close friends, work, and a ministry). If someone asked me to do something, I ran it through this rubric and if it didn't fit, I had to say "no". Although I was busy, I was also focused, purposeful, and largely balanced. Some time later, I changed jobs and found myself trying to find my way to new ministries. Without my earlier rubric, I found it much harder to choose what to say "yes" or "no" to. My priorities had become much more fuzzy and it was harder to determine which things to do and not to do. Life felt much more scattered and out of control. Having a defined set of priorities to evaluate opportunities makes it easier to identify and say "no" to things that don't fit.

Practice saying "No." Although this tiny two letter word slips out of our mouths when we are two with amazing ease and frequency, somehow as we grow older it becomes harder and harder to say. Sometimes we need to practice saying it.

Practice it in the mirror. Practice it with a friend. Practice it in the car. Practice saying it to your children's toys. Say . . .

No with attitude.
No with charm.
No simply and straightforwardly.
No with a gracious explanation.

No can be said in many ways, but in the end, it needs to be said and to be held to firmly, because most people will take advantage of you if you let them. Practice saying "no" until you can say it comfortably to others because it frees you from commitments you can't afford to make.

When your schedule seems overwhelming,
what do you do to bring it under control?


  1. Yay! Speak it, girl! A fabulously written post filled with truth that more of us need to grab hold of.

    1. Thanks, Linda!! I appreciate your words of encouragement. This post flowed out of years of struggle to manage my to do list and schedule.

  2. Still working on this one. I like the oxygen mask example!

    1. Thanks for popping in ALJ. I hope you're able to see some light at the end of the tunnel soon!

  3. Darlene, I have been enjoying reading your blog! Isn't it great that you are a writer much in the same way as Grandma Riley used to write her diaries so faithfully! I hope all of her diaries are still around somewhere! I know I have the one from the year my dad was born. Anyway, I have had to learn to say 'no' the hard way, unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you look at it. It is so hard for me but it is very freeing and certainly God-honoring! I still struggle with some time priorities (like spending too much time on Facebook, etc.) but God isn't finished with me yet! Love, your cousin, Patty

    1. Yes, Grandma's diaries are still around - at least many of them. Like you, others took diaries from a special year, so some are distributed among members of the family. The rest, I have in a box and pull them out from time to time.

      This post definitely comes from some lessons learned the hard way. I too still struggle to keep my priorities in line. Ummm . . . love your reminder that God isn't finished with us yet.

      Thanks for popping in!