Dial It Down (Part 1)


This year, the last month of spring semester was more hectic than usual. Traveling to Ireland over break and getting ready to release a book were both wonderful things, but piling them on top of a full schedule made for very little down time. I was on top of things because I had to be but, by the time the semester ended, I was ready for a break.

Now that my break has arrived, the pendulum has swung in the other direction. I’m still getting things accomplished, but not as quickly as I’d like, perhaps because the list is long. Often, at the end of the day, I feel frustrated by all that remains to be done and chastise myself for being lazy, forgetting that the down time I’m taking (by accident or by design) is not only exactly what I need, but is feeding the work I am doing as well.

As we move from one time of year — or time of life — to another, we need time to transition. I know this. I’ve even learned that transitioning in and out of semesters takes more time than I expect, yet I still grow impatient with myself. I have not turned into a complete couch potato and, though the list of things I want to accomplish remains long, I’m making progress.

But I’m still not satisfied.

Today and next Wednesday, I’m focusing on ways to establish some balance as I transition out of a time of busyness and into a time that’s still busy, but more low-key. As always, your comments and questions are welcome, so please feel free to share suggestions or ask questions.

Meanwhile, here are today’s three keys: how to use lists as a tool instead of a bludgeon.

Recognize that what looks good on paper always takes more time than the words convey. When my energy is high, I feel as though I can take on the world and, when I get excited about projects, my energy soars. This combination fuels endless to-do lists that take up very little space on the page, but require a substantial chunk of time and energy. “Clean the basement,” for example, is three little words, but requires a commitment of time and energy far beyond what those three small words convey. Remembering that just because I can fit everything on the page doesn’t mean I can fit it into the day is important.

Put yourself and your priorities on the list. During tax season, accountants don’t have down time, but during the off-season, they need time to recharge. Why am I talking about accountants? Because I’m really good at seeing other people’s need for down time, yet I’m impatient with myself when I need the same thing. Just as I don’t expect my daughter to roll right out of her semester and into a summer job, I need to cut myself some slack, too. Time to read a book or even play mindless games on my iPad resets the pendulum. Making sure I don’t become so productivity-driven that I can’t step away from the computer for some human contact — unscheduled, even! — is important, too. Important enough to make it onto the list, just in case I get into the zone and forget that checking things off isn’t the only thing that matters.

Make a backwards to-do list. When I get to the end of the day and chastise myself for being “lazy,” I need to reflect back on what I did accomplish instead of focusing on what I’ve left undone. My favorite tool for doing this is a backwards to-do list — writing down what I did all day after I did it. Usually, the list is evidence of a much higher level of productivity than I gave myself credit for. In addition, it reveals obstacles (how long did I spend playing games on my iPad??) and unexpected bonuses that might not have been on the agenda, but were worth our time (like lunch with my daughter).

Drop by next Wednesday for Part 2. Meanwhile, let me know if there’s something you want me to address. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this dilemma.

Copyright 2019 Lisa Hess


About Author

Lisa Lawmaster Hess has contributed articles to local, national and online publications, and blogs at The Porch Swing Chronicles, The Susquehanna Writers and here at Catholicmom.com. She is the author of two non-fiction books (Acting Assertively and Diverse Divorce) and two novels, Casting the First Stone and Chasing a Second Chance. A retired elementary school counselor, Lisa is a lecturer in psychology at York College and enjoys singing with the contemporary choir at her church.

1 Comment

  1. I find that some items on my to do list are not items, but really projects. I read this somewhere, maybe Gretchen Rubin or GTD? I find it helps to write out all the tasks encompassed by an item like “clean the basement “ to get a better idea of time investment required and also to remember that there are some tasks that can be picked off quickly.

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