It’s 1:15. There’s a house under all this mess, and it’s starting to smell weird.
I sigh. It’s like Groundhog Day. No matter how much I clean, it will look the same it does now by the time I wake up in the morning. Yet it has to be done. I set my timer for 15 minutes, courtesy of FlyLady. The thought of what needs to be done, compared to how little I’ll get done in 15 minutes, is enough to make me want to quit before I start.
Today is a day for a Have Done list.
I open the dishwasher and grab an IKEA coffee mug. My list starts extra early today:
1) 3 am. Pixie has been babbling for at least an hour in her crib. When I finally check on her, I find she has removed her diaper, peed in her bed, and thrown all her stuffed toys out. I give her a new diaper, a clean change of sheets and a drink of water.
2) Bug, watching with bleary eyes, says she needs a drink of water. Of course, she immediately spills it in bed. I change her sheets and blankets.
3) 8 am. We all slept in, no wonder. Except DH–he’s long gone. I find Pixie chattering happily to herself, diaper off, stuffed toys once again chucked on the floor. Bug mutters that Pixie had been throwing them at her head. New diaper for Pixie.
That’s right, I think. I’ve already done so much today. it’s a wonder I’m not napping right now, though I’d like to. Yay me! I pick up a sponge and a sticky plate from the sink.
4) Made breakfast
5) Helped everyone get dressed
6) Packed Bug’s lunch and snacks
7) Drove Bug to Day Camp
8) Went to chiropractor appointment
9) Went to Farmer’s Market
10) Worked out 30 minutes
11) Cleaned up the garlic rice Pixie threw everywhere last night (hey, at least I did it! No judging allowed on the Have Done list!)
The timer goes off. The dishes are loaded and one side of the sink scrubbed, which is quite the accomplishment, let me tell you, since I’ve been scouring parts of the grill in there. My mood is improving. I remember that even on days when I feel like I haven’t done much, I actually do a lot. Looking at my To Do list, it’s easy to feel like there’s no point in trying, or that I’m failing. I take a deep breath and set the timer for another 15 minutes.
12) Made lunch
13) Read Pixie Dress-up Peek-a-Boo, then half of Bathtime for Biscuit before she handed me Dress-up Peek-a-boo again.
14) Changed Pixie’s diaper
15) Put Pixie down for a nap, with pants on this time
16) Changed Pixie’s diaper again after she stuck her butt in the air and said “Poo! Poo!” as soon as I tried to leave. Poo indeed.
17) Unloaded dishes
18) Loaded dishes
19) Cleaned half of sink
By the time the second timer goes off, I’ve tidied the kitchen, scrubbed the counters and the microwave, and washed the Ziploc bags from last night’s freezer dinner so I can reuse them in the next round of bulk cooking.
And now I feel awesome. I am awesome. I GOT STUFF DONE!!!!!
By focusing on listing off the things I’ve done, instead of getting stuck on all I still have to do, I’ve changed my attitude about myself and my work completely. A few years ago, this simple concept literally changed my life. Some days, when I know I’m going to need it, I get out a piece of paper first thing in the morning, label it “Things I Did Today”, and write down every single accomplishment, from showering in the morning to bathing the kids before bed. I put the list where everyone can see it. I remember the first time I made one, DH read it when he got home and went wide-eyed. So what if there’s a stack of unfinished sewing in the closet and the front porch is covered in dirt? Look at what I DID! While I should be able to feel my worth as a person regardless of what I get done each day, knowing what I did sure doesn’t hurt.
I can’t take credit for the Have Done list. This wisdom was passed to me by a middle-aged divorced mother in one of my Theater Theory classes. (Not nearly as mysterious as the dancing gypsy lady, but just as wise). I was juggling work, a toddler, and school, and DH was doing the same. I’d been consistently late to class. My sitter had canceled several times during the past few weeks, leaving me with an active, distractingly adorable 18-month-old Bug in a small, crowded college classroom. The worst day had ended with me crying in the hall, screaming toddler in arms, begging Bug to JUST BE QUIET. I still wonder if the class heard me.
So one day this woman leaned her head in close to mine and told me about the Have Done list. She gave no explanation, no “Hey, it’s clear that you’re a skip and a jump away from snapping, so here’s a little advice to keep you from ending up on the evening news.” She just told me that sometimes instead of writing down all the things she had to do that day, she wrote down the things she had done instead. Her plump face creased in a smile as she told me to try it.
I thought her suggestion was odd; out of the blue, seemingly trivial. This woman, with her short brown wash-and-go hair, unfashionable button-up shirts, and ideas that were so out of place in a class full of wannabe rebel artists, was not tuned in to the Reality of Life. So I just smiled and thanked her politely.
A wiser part of me knew I should listen to the divorced lady with five kids who was going for a college degree in her 40’s. I soon tried the list. And I’ve kept trying it, on days when I thought nothing could motivate me to touch the piles of mundane tasks lying scattered around the house, or even get off the computer and play with my kids. Days when I thought I was worth less because I couldn’t keep the living room clean.
Some days, my list looks something like this:
1) Got dressed.
2) Wrangled kids all day.
3) Ordered pizza for dinner.
4) Left a heap of laundry, a sink of dishes, and a bag of Legos and 100 alphabet flashcards on the floor so I could watch a movie with DH and fall asleep early.
On days like this, I can look at my list, see that my kids are safe and fed, and be content. Even a day of “unproductive” child-wrangling consists of meals, baths, diaper changes, books read, knees and elbows kissed, and dozens of other things that keeping a Have Done list lets me break down and see for what they are: a lot of work! Not only that, I’ve found that keeping this list actually motivates me to do more, because afterwards I get to write it down and be proud of it instead of dragging my feet to the next task because I’m focusing on the fact that I can never get it all finished. Most importantly, it keeps me from becoming entangled by perfectionism. I give myself credit for what I’ve done, rather than being hard on myself for all the things I can’t possibly finish.
So listen to the cheery middle-aged mom in durable clothing. And me. Start a list. Now!