How to tame the unruly beast that is the to-do list

How to tame the unruly beast that is the to-do list - www.alliepottswrites.comTo-do lists can be so cute when they are young. When they look at you with those big shiny eyes, begging for your attention, you can’t help taking them home. As you stroke its fur and listen to it emit those adorable sleepy sounds of contentment, you can’t help think of all the wonderful things the two of you will accomplish together.

Then one day when you aren’t paying it enough attention, it piddles on the floor or gnaws a hole in your favorite shoes. Your sleep gets interrupted by late night whimpers or whines demanding your immediate attention. It nips at your fingers with sharp baby teeth and scratches your legs with its razor-sharp claws.

But you let this behavior go. It’s a baby to-do list after all. Mishaps happen. It’s annoying, yes, but all part of the process. You tell yourself it’s no big deal.

The next thing you know, that baby is one hundred fifty pounds of pure muscle more capable of taking you on a walk than you are taking it. The floors are ruined as is the couch, the blinds, and the contents of your closet. You stop having anyone over, too embarrassed to let them see what your list has become. You dread leaving your home, worried about what mess it’ll make while you are gone. What if it gets out? Even worse, what if it finds another list out there and multiples?

It growls at your family. It snaps at your dreams and each day you do nothing your to-do list only grows larger, meaner, and more wild. It’s no longer annoying. It’s quality of life affecting.

You might be tempted to take the to-do list out to the woods and be done with it, but then you remember back to those eyes and the sweet little baby it once was, and you decide to give it one last chance, but deep down you know something has to change. That something is you.

It’s time to take control and tame that unruly beast.

Step 1: Put that list on a diet.

If you aren’t sure of your to-do list’s ideal weight, ask a trusted friend, but chances are you have been feeding it far more than is healthy. Start by cutting back on the filler treats that might make you temporarily feel good, but in truth don’t provide any nutritional value, like agreeing to judge a hot dog eating competition at the local state fair when you also have three missed deadlines already and no experience in the world of professional competitive eating.

Focus instead on limiting your list to three to five lean but high-quality meaty goals and keep your list active with plenty of exercise. Once your list is back in a manageable weight class, you can reintroduce the snacks provided they remain in moderation.

If you are not sure how to do this (it’s harder than it sounds), you may want to check out The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals (affiliate link). Yes, it is a business book, but I treat achieving my big goals as a business and so should you.

Step 2: Establish and Enforce Boundaries

Expect whining from your to-do list, especially in the beginning as it is used to getting its way, but remember its reign over your house is over. Spray bitter apple on things that shouldn’t be chewed. Invest in a fence or limit its range to only certain rooms. Purchase a timer or create a schedule. However you set your boundaries, make sure they work for you because once set, you’ll need to remain firm and let what doesn’t make the list go. As long as you don’t mind the language, I recommend reading The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life (affiliate link)

Step 3: Enlist the help of a trainer

Your to-do list just knocked over Grandma Maude’s vase with its tail.  I get it. Adding more books to read to your list isn’t helping. You’ve maxed out on what you can do alone. If this is the case, I recommend finding an accountability partner. This can be a friend, spouse, colleague, or even a random person you’ve stalked built a relation with online (facebook groups related to your interests are a good place to start). The ‘who’ doesn’t matter. What they do, however, does. This person should be able to regularly help identify priorities and be trusted to hold the leash with a firm hand when your to-do list starts pulling away as it is apt to do.

Step 4: Reward your progress

How to tame your to-do list - www.alliepottswrites.com

Asana Screen Shot

Positive reinforcement works wonders. Just as a dog can learn to associate the sound of a clicker or over-the-top expressions like “whose a good girl/boy? You are!” as praise, your list will respond to seeing tasks getting checked off. Treat each check mark like a big deal it is. If you prioritized your tasks properly, they will be. Don’t keep your accomplishments in your head. Write them down and display them for all your family to see.

Some people might be comfortable working from a scratch pad or a pile of post-it notes, but I prefer using an app like Evernote, Trello (affiliate link to tell them Allie sent you) or Asana. All have desktop and mobile versions as well as limited, but free-to-use plans. I also like these tools because it makes it easy for me to share my list with my accountability partners, set due date reminders, and upload files related to a task, so pulling it all together later is one task I don’t have to add to a list.

Step 5: Accept accidents will still happen

No matter how well-behaved your list becomes, its heart is still that of a wild beast. Accidents, like forgotten commitments and missed due dates will still happen. Don’t rub your list’s nose in it. Don’t dwell on the failure and whatever you do, if your goals are important enough, don’t ever give up.

 

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How to create a dinner of champions

I may have actually stumbled upon the secret to get my toddler to willingly eat more than mac n’ cheese and applesauce at dinner time!

My eldest son spoiled me rotten. As a baby he loved sweet peas, and as a kindergartener one of his favorite meals is chicken nuggets with a strawberries and a side salad. Yes. A side salad. And not just lettuce smeared with ranch dressing. No, he prefers a drizzle of balsamic glaze. I was therefore fully unprepared for the challenge that is my youngest son at meal times.

So sayeth the toddler

Greens need not touch his plate. In fact, go ahead and extend that to most other food groups. If the food on his plate wasn’t a complex carb – well he just wasn’t interested. We tried plane sounds. We tried rewards and other bribery such as promising deserts. He sealed his lips tighter than Fort Knox. We tried trickery. He returned the favor by hiding it all in his cheeks and spitting it out later. We told him that if he didn’t eat his dinner he would be sent to time out or even to bed. He chose time out. And I don’t just mean by continuing with attitude. I mean my toddler actually said, in clear English, with a smile on his face, “I wan time out.”

My toddler is now two and a half, which means I only have to live with the terrible twos for another few months. [Then I get the joy of the trying threes! Yippee!!!] As a result, you may believe that he will naturally become more willing to try new things as maturing. Perhaps. But perhaps he requires more incentive to change his behavior. Perhaps we all do.

Vision without execution is hallucinationI recently read a post suggesting that everyone should find themselves an accountability partner. I loved the idea and brought it up with my hubby. He and I are both idea people, and idea people tend to make terrible executors if left to their own devices. Not because they don’t want to execute on their original idea, just because there is always a nicer, shinier, new idea just waiting to be developed. I asked him if he’d be willing to start setting a personal goal each week which we’d discuss over Sunday dinner. He agreed to try.

Sunday rolled around and we started discussing what we wanted to accomplish this week. Our kindergartener caught on and wanted to come up with his own goal for the week. Excellent! We agreed that we would all take on one small bite sized goal for the week. If we were all successful at the end of the week as a family, we’d award ourselves with a single star. If we could all earn twenty stars then we’d go on a vacation. Kiddo was sold. He loves winning, no matter what the rules of the game are. Then he asked what his brother’s goal should be. We thought about and agreed that he had to try his food every night this week.

Sunday dinner went smoothly. Monday’s too. Then Tuesday night, toddler stubbornness was back in full effect. I sighed and said, well I guess we aren’t getting a star this week as I tried to figure out my next strategy. Suddenly Kiddo was by his brother’s side cheering his brother along. My toddler may enjoy tests of will against me, but adores his brother above all things and wants to be just like him. His mouth opened and in went the food. The star was saved for another day and there was much rejoicing.

Execution is made easiest when you allow your team to take ownership of the method, and the best incentives are the ones the team comes up with themselves. All the leader is supposed to do is provide a clear vision of where they want to go and then get out of the way while his or her team does what they do best in order to get there. It would seem this is just as true in the house as it is the office.

It has only been a few days, but I am optimistic that my family will be healthier and stronger, or at least better fed, as a result of this experiment. With a little determination and a lot of accountability, the seats around out dinner table on Sundays will soon be filled with champions.