Do you ever feel like you’re sprinting around simply dealing with one “sticky point” after another?
I’m not just talking about the literal stickiness . . . like orange juice on the kitchen tile or jelly smeared through someone’s hair.
I’m talking about the behind-the-scenes problems that prevent you from accomplishing what matters most – the “little things” that frustrate you and keep you from enjoying the moments with your family.
Maybe your son’s globe nightlight needs a new bulb, and he complains about how much he misses it every time you try to sing lullabies.
Perhaps the door on the clothes dryer keeps popping open, so every time you run a load through, you have to stack heavy boxes in front of the machine, which then impedes the flow of traffic coming in from the garage.
Maybe you’re totally out of plastic spoons, so your children keep taking “real” ones to school in their lunch boxes.
The details in your home will be unique to your family, but everyone has to deal with “life.”
And what ends up happening is that we get so busy with the daily routines and trying to keep our heads above water that we put off taking care of these relatively easy-to-handle “sticky” points.
We wait until the little things become big things, and throughout the whole process, our energy is zapped as our inner voice shouts, “Why can’t you pull your life together?”
We, as mothers, have high hopes, and we’re doing good work. We want to take excellent care of our families, be there for our neighbors, pursue our passions, volunteer in the community, and curl up next to our honey with a fantastic book or a favorite TV show at the end of the day.
We just need a simple, effective way to smooth out the flow of our family lives and give us more energy to devote to our highest priorities.
My life used to be overwhelming (and sometimes out of control), but the process I’m about to share with you has transformed my family experience. I can’t wait for you to give it a try.
Make a master list of everything bothering you.
This will be an ongoing process, but whenever you start feeling cranky, sit down and identify the things that are bothering you (that you can control . . . that’s the ticket).
Here are some things that have graced my own list in the past few months:
• The snow cone machine our family loves just broke, within the 90-day return window, and I have the receipt in my planner. I need to make the exchange soon because we like to use it every single day, and everyone keeps asking me about it.
• My daughter’s black dress needs to be mended, and she really needs it back in her wardrobe. (She borrows my clothes when I say I haven’t gotten to it yet!)
• I’m always texting friends at the last minute, trying to coordinate carpools for our kids’ weeknight activities. I need to set up a better system.
• One child is extremely drawn to screens and computer games. We’ve got to come up with some alternatives.
• We’re paying for Netflix but keep forgetting to order the DVDs…and I think we lost one behind the TV.
This is pretty typical, right? So what do we do?
Identify the Next Action associated with each item on your list.
I learned the term “Next Action” from David Allen’s best-seller, Getting Things Done®. It’s defined as “the next specific, visible activity that will move a task toward completion.”
Many of the “sticky points” you’ll have on your list will only require one step. For those that require two or more associated tasks, you just focus on the very next one.
Let’s go through my five items from above and quickly identify the Next Action.
• The snow cone machine: Take it back to the store.
• The dress requiring mending: Get out my needle and black thread and sew the little sequins back on.
• The carpool dilemma: Call Deb and see if she wants to trade drop-offs and pick-ups each Thursday.
• The screen-addiction: Sit down with my husband and identify a list of alternative activities our son would enjoy.
• The lost DVD: Get on the Netflix website and find out what the “lost DVD” policy is.
That wasn’t very painful, was it?
Write the Next Actions on context-based lists.
For years, I scribbled long lists of tasks into spiral notebooks and tried to earn as many check marks as possible. It was stressful.
Now, I use five contexts to track the “specific, visible activities that will move my tasks toward completion.”
3. At Home
4. Phone Calls
5. To Discuss (Agendas)
I keep one list in my planner to track things that need to be done this week. It looks like this:
Then I keep another set of lists – one page per context – at the back of my planner, where I record tasks that can wait a bit, but need to be done as soon as it’s convenient.
(There are also plenty of smart-phone apps that can be organized this way.)
Once you’ve decided how you want your lists to look and where you want to keep them, you just place each “Next Action” on the appropriate list.
• The snow cone machine: This Week – ERRAND
• The dress requiring mending: As Soon as it’s Convenient – HOME TASK
• The carpool dilemma: This Week – PHONE CALL
• The screen-addiction: This Week – TO DISCUSS
• The lost DVD: As Soon as it’s Convenient – COMPUTER
When you’re in a specific context, work from the corresponding list(s).
When I’m on my way to the store to buy cleaning supplies and toiletries, I check my errands list and remember to grab the snow-cone machine.
When my daughter is sitting at the kitchen table doing her homework, I can check my “home” context and gather the supplies needed to mend her dress. (She’ll be so happy!)
When my boys are happily playing Legos, I can check my phone list and get that carpool scheduled.
What I love about these context-based Next Actions is the fact that they help me use my time well. When a few spare moments pop up here and there, I know what to do with them. I can check my lists and actually move forward on eliminating the sticky parts of my life.
And then I can breathe.
We all have that inner desire to live a good story. There are exciting, meaningful, beautiful things to be done with our time and talents. Our children want to create lasting memories with us, and we want those memories to include a mother who really thrived.
So take some time today and identify what’s distracting you from living your best life. Figure out your Next Actions, and record them on corresponding lists that you can easily reference when you’re in the right context to do so. Because when you do this, your life is going to feel incredible . . . even when it’s sticky.
Note from April: This system of task organization is part of a GTD®-based program called Mind Organization for Moms, and I would love to give away 100 free programs (valued at $50 each) as a gift to the Simple Mom Community. To receive your free program, please click here.
Do you have a special method for organizing the “sticky parts” of your day? Have you noticed a difference in how you feel when these types of tasks are completed?