What matters most today?

When was the last time you crossed everything off your daily to-do list?

We love the sense of completion that comes from owning the day, but so often we end up feeling like the day owned us.

Part of the challenge is that some of us, like me, put everything on the list – even if some items aren’t as critical. Another problem is, we tend to be awful at estimating how long each task will take.

Every weekend, my number one goal is to spend quality time with my husband and girls. The weeks are busy and often feel rushed. The weekend is time to recharge together and build that reserve of quality time. But that ambiguous goal can get displaced when other items on my list include: clean out the garage, get the car washed, pay bills, plan a trip for spring break, do all the laundry, clean out the refrigerator and finish a project for work. 

Each item on my list seems to evolve and add four more tasks underneath. For instance, the car wash attendant noticed a crack in my windshield, which led to a call negotiating with the insurance company and scheduling a windshield replacement for the upcoming week. Two hours later, I was still messing around with what I thought was a quick item on the list.

On Sunday, I often find myself feeling frustrated and disappointed by the Frankenstein of my own creation: the half-completed list. And worse, I find that my number one goal – focused, leisurely family time – wasn’t met in the way I had imagined.

So this is what I’m doing: I’m allowing myself only one important thing each day. The one thing that must get done with no excuses. The one objective that matters most and will offer the most impact.

This Saturday, our family is to go camping by a lake. We are going to look at stars in the darkened sky and skip rocks across the water. We are going to talk around the campfire and eat s’mores until our hands and faces are sticky.

Clean cars, laundered clothes and an organized garage will just have to wait.

Author: Alyssa Forcehimes, PhD

An expert in behavior change, substance use disorders and empathic communication, Dr. Alyssa Forcehimes serves as President of The Change Companies® and Train for Change Inc.® She lives in Arizona with her husband and two daughters.