Make ToDo Lists Work for You

My father was my first superhero, even before Superman.  Besides being big and strong, he was always calm and things seemed to go well around him. He got more done than anybody else I ever met.  And we never had to go back and unplug the iron or retrieve someone’s toothbrush.

I think my Dad’s super-power was his using To Do lists.  Pretty much whenever he had a bunch of time and stuff he needed to get done, he’d have a To Do list made up.  And when there was a bunch of things that had to be done to accomplish some goal, he’d make up a To Do list for it.

There are numerous benefits to using To Do lists:

  • You are less likely to forget something.
  • You are less likely to run out of time (or at least, not be surprised when you start to run out of time.)
  • Making a To Do list gives you the opportunity to think about what you are going to do ahead of time.  So you think about what you will be doing, how to do it, what tools, materials or other prerequisites are needed.  You can estimate how long each item should take and how much time you have so you shouldn’t be surprised if you start to run out of time and it’s less likely that you won’t be able to finish your list, assuming that your estimates are close.
  • If you have a list to work from, you are not spending as much time and energy figuring out stuff.  As a result, you can focus more on doing and less on thinking about it.
  • When you move the list out of your memory, you free up more of your brain and memory to use on other stuff.  So you’ll able to use your brain for other things, which makes you practically smarter.
  • Having better control of what you are doing reduces your stress, making you more effective because you are calmer.  Besides, no one has fun when they are stressed out.
  • Having more confidence in what you are doing makes you more effective and encourages others to trust you, making it easier to convince them to do what you want.
  • Having a physical list makes it easier to share what you are doing.  Others can better understand a written list and it’s easier for them to “see” what you are doing.

To Do lists are easy to make and easy to use.  Even if you aren’t so good at them in the beginning, they are still helpful and you’ll get better with practice.  They don’t have to be complicated or pretty.  They just need to provide reminders of what you intend to do so that whatever you need to remember, the list can provide it for you (or trigger your memory to remember it.)

You want to make your first lists more descriptive than you think you need so that you don’t have to stretch your memory when it’s not used to working in this way.  As time goes on, abbreviating the list and item descriptions will work fine because your brain and memory have learned how to use To Do lists to remember stuff so the reminders to trigger memories can be briefer.  But in the beginning, strive to make lists that you can depend on.  That will create a history of success which will encourage you to use To Do lists more and trust that they will guide you truly.


There’s Always a “Before”…

… and it ain’t pretty.  I hadn’t realized how I had gotten pudgy around the middle and I’m certainly no model of the human form at my age.

Beyond the aesthetic, I’m not fit enough to do things I want to do, including:

  • Walk to or from the bus stop so that I can take the regular buses that run on schedules on fixed routes.  That will make it easier to do things like shopping or the library, when the time for returning home isn’t set, just when I’m done doing whatever.
  • Attend social events like my high school reunion which is coming up next month.
  • Attend day-long rocket launches without leaving early or needing a timeout which makes it tough to go on my own or with a group.
  • Go to the Mountain Play which had been an annual family tradition until the stroke.
  • Visit my father again before he dies.  Getting to Nashville takes a full day of traveling with lots of walking and standing in line and dealing with airplanes (with small aisles and smaller seats.)

So right now, I’m working on establishing a daily workout habit with motor skill exercises for my left elbow and left foot/ankle.  I hope this leads to  workouts that actually stress muscles in the next few weeks.



How to Get Out of Survival Mode

Some people may think that I’m being less than honest when I remark that I had it easier than my wife did when I had the stroke.  But it’s very obvious to me that she’s had a miserable time trying to keep everything together while I just had to survive.

This is one of those times of life when it’s reasonable to slip into survival mode – when something unexpected and outside your control happens and you can’t ignore it.  But to maintain your sanity, you have to figure out how to eventually get out of survival mode to a life with some semblance of balance and if not calm, at least not constant demands, crises and stress.

First, stop making more commitments!

That old cliche that when you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging! applies here too.  It is much better to surprise someone when you do something unexpected than to disappoint them when you fail to do the expected.

Of course, there are always some things that are too important that you can’t stop doing, like feeding your family.  But those are very few, probably fewer than you think.

Once you’ve reset expectations, you can then begin making commitments again, being careful to only make commitments that you are absolutely going to keep.

Craig’s Hierarchy of Everyday Priorities

It can be helpful to think of time like money, a limited resource that you have to budget what you spend it on.  Like your checking account has only so much money for each month, there are only so many hours in each day and you have to decide what is most important to you to spend those precious hours doing.

To manage commitments intelligently, you need a systematic method of deciding which commitments are more important and which will have less impact if dropped.  Without some system, you’ll find yourself unhappy and stressed out because while you’re missing the important things in your life, you’ll be stuck doing things with little meaning for you.

Don’t Count on More Time Later

When you’re in survival mode, there is a huge temptation to put stuff off or only do the absolute minimum of what has to be done at that moment.  The problem is that there’s never more time later.  At least, not enough when you need it.    It’s a better strategy to do things completely, so that you never have to worry about them again.

Get Yourself Out of the Loop

Quite often survival mode is so overwhelming that there doesn’t seem to be time or energy to teach others how to do stuff themselves.  It seems easier to just forge ahead and do stuff yourself instead of teaching someone else how to do it without your help, especially since teaching someone to do something takes just as long, if not longer than doing it yourself.  The important thing, though, is that once someone learns how to do something, they no longer need you to do it for them and you then have less that you have to do yourself.

Another way to get yourself out of the loop is to delegate ruthlessly.  We often don’t delegate as often as we could because we think that only we can do something correctly.  Mothers often underestimate what their kids can do and don’t think it’s fair to make them do stuff to to help keep the house & family functioning.  But kids will surprise you with what they can do and they are proud when they can contribute like they see their parents do.

Don’t Forget to Take Care of Yourself

Lastly, you need to remember to do the things you need to do to stay healthy and sane.  That includes getting enough sleep and exercise.

A User Manual For Life Would Be Helpful

Ever since the rehab hospital after the stroke, I’ve wanted to blog about my experiences, so hopefully others won’t trip over the same things I did.  It’s very important to remember that we aren’t alone and there are others in the same boat and surviving.

It took me a long time to get my act together enough so that I could actually write a real blog!  There have been a couple false starts and many obstacles that were overcome.  But I’ve finally started blogging regularly.