I am a very task oriented person. I know not everyone shares my joy in making to-do lists and then crossing things off of them once they are accomplished, but for me this is one of the simple pleasures in life. Certainly, I wish that there weren’t quite so many things on the to-do lists to start with, but the pure bliss of getting to make big lines through them once they are done almost makes up for it. Truthfully, most of the things on my to-do lists are mundane. Things like make a doctor’s appointment, take the car in for service, renew a prescription, do the laundry, and bag the trash. I keep a separate work-related one so that when I take out my computer, I know what I need to focus on. Thankfully, I’m no longer in the sleep-deprived haze of early motherhood when I actually had to write “start the dishwasher” on my to-do list or else it wouldn’t get done. Still, my memory is not good and I have too many things to juggle. Without the lists, way too many things would simply drift away, never to be thought of again.
What do to-do lists have to do with setting goals? To-do lists are made up of small doable tasks. They are action items. Do the thing and you get to scratch it off the list. It may go back on the list tomorrow, but for this day the mission has been accomplished. When people make goals (myself included), it is easy to think big. This is good. It is wonderful to dream. This is where many people get stuck. They can see where they want to be and they can see where they are now. What they don’t know is how to get there. It’s easy to get discouraged – to look at the dream and to throw in the towel. It is so far away. How could I ever get there? What’s the point? At these moments, it is important to note that the road from point A to point B is not one giant step. It is made up of smaller steps, actions that can be placed on a to-do list and accomplished one day at a time.
For example, my Bible study friends and I were all talking about how we would like to rid our homes of clutter. This is a big job. One look around my house (or my friends’ houses) and it would be easy to give up. However, we have started a plan. One of my friends sends out a Facebook message to each of us with our task for the day. These tasks are supposed to take about fifteen minutes a day. That’s doable. It’s currently an item on my actual to-do list – “Clean 15 minutes.” When it is done for that day, it is crossed off. I feel like I have accomplished my goal for the day and my house is slowly getting cleaner. Will my house ever be entirely clutter-free? Probably not, but I will be a lot closer than if I had done nothing.
This process can be applied to almost everything – even our spiritual lives. In this case, the goal is heaven. That’s a big goal. We can take a look at our lives and easily get discouraged. However, we don’t need to look at the rest of our lives in one fell swoop. We only need to worry about today. What are some things we can add to our daily to-do list to help us make spiritual progress? Have you always wanted to read the Bible, but can never seem to squeeze it in? Perhaps you could put “read Bible for 5 minutes” on your to-do list. Everyone has five minutes. Start small. You can always add to it. Maybe you have always wanted to say the rosary, but never seem to get to it. Start with one decade. Go ahead – put “say one decade of the rosary” on your to-do list. Perhaps you would like to do more to help the poor? On the to-do list could be “pick out 5 food items to donate to a local food pantry” or “Take three items out of closet that no longer fit and donate them.” These are small things, yes. They won’t change the world, but they will be a start. As one becomes accustomed to doing these things regularly, it will be easier to add other things on. You will find you have more time for prayer and spiritual reading. You will find more ways to help the poor. Make small goals that lead to bigger ones. Start walking the road. If you miss a day, start again the next. You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.
Copyright 2010 Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur