Tossing Your To-do List

Girl Waiting at Window
photo by Joyseph

Are you trying to finish your to-do list so you can get to the good stuff?

Hoping for time to do something you love, something with meaning?

We all have daily small details to attend to, and it can be frustrating to feel like that’s all you do, when you wish you were doing something bigger and better.

One solution is to keep trying, and keep trying, not quitting because you’re almost there.  And if you could just get all your emails answered and your papers filed, then you’d be able to stop (if you don’t burn out first).  

An easier solution would be to just stop.


Simplifying does not mean getting everything done first so you can finally live simply.

One time I was getting ready to go to a fun event, but I wasn’t looking forward to it.  I thought I would enjoy it if only…

  • the house was clean
  • the laundry was done
  • the dishes were cleared
  • the trash was out
  • the mail was sent
  • I knew what to wear
  • I wasn’t so tired

And so on.

I was letting minor things stand in the way of something more important, and I needed to choose to let go of the constant stream of tasks I could be doing.  I know some small tasks are necessary and good.  Other tasks are just busyness: they have little meaning, or are done needlessly to the point of perfection.

Why do we get so caught up in the busyness of life that we don’t allow ourselves to enjoy it?  Honestly, I have no idea.  If anyone knows, please tell me so I can stop doing it.

My friend Gay Nell wisely says that we are human beings, not human doings.  I love this.  We all need a break from our lists at least once a day so that we can be still and refocus.

Has it been a while since you’ve done something really fun?  Something that felt really purposeful and satisfying?  Something you’ve been wanting to do for a long time?  Don’t just wait for it to happen, because it won’t.  There’s a three-day weekend here.  Spend some time doing something that you really love.  

And please, please, do at least one thing that’s not the least bit practical.

About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. Sometimes I get up to my eyeballs in work and orders, and chores, etc. and I think, if I just finish this one thing…but there’s always more, so you’re right — just stop. I’ve been “stopping” a lot more lately, after reading another of your inspiring articles, and it makes me feel like a better mother, wife, teacher and friend. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. I’ve been trying to focus on the people in my life, instead of the “things” I need to get done. So while my to-do list might be really long for the day, I’m trying to put spending time with my husband and son ahead of most other things – and not with my mind on the laundry or the dishes!

  3. This is such an important reminder! I am a list person by nature, so this is something I struggle with at times.

    Some things that have helped me:

    I add family time into my “to do” list each day. I also keep a checklist of the minimum things I want to get done before bed each night…this allows me to spend 100% family time with my husband and daughter from the time I get home from work until our daughter goes to bed. After that I run through my checklist and head to bed!

    I also like the idea from simple mom of choosing your 3 most important tasks for each day – this challenges me to actually think about and CHOOSE what is most important to accomplish at the beginning of each day. In addition, if I don’t get to the rest of the things on the list I don’t feel so bad.

  4. Great reminder…thanks!

  5. Linda Meeks says:

    How right you are about being still. In this chaotic world it is difficult to do, but the Bible says 29 times to be still or stand still. No command is given there that is not for our good. It says we are to be still so that we can see what He is doing, hear what He is saying, and know that He is God. In Habakkuk it says “The Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the world keep silent before Him.” I know I want to be led beside the still waters and for Jesus to say “Peace be still” to the storms of life.

  6. What a good reminder. Thank you. I do plan to take advantage of this long weekend and have F.U.N.

    I’m a list person by nature but I have also taught myself to not put more on a daily list than I can get done. Having a list that never gets finished just makes me feel bad. So I keep it short and reasonable.

    Does anyone (else) really care if my dishes are done? Laundry sorted? Toilets cleaned No. Just ask my girls. They’ll be the first to tell me that their friends don’t care if they come over and the house is a mess. They say, “Mom, it’s not about the house.” And they’re right. What happens to us between childhood/teenage years and adulthood? Guess we loose sight of some of the simpler things, don’t we?

    Here’s to a list free weekend! Enjoy.

  7. That’s exactly how I felt with my hobbies since my son was born – as much as I really enjoyed scrapbooking, needlework, photography, etc., I just could not climb out of the “reality” that was my life – a stay-at-home mom raising a small child. For a long while, I just “sucked it up” & became the mama martyr, believing I could never have “fun” again until my child was in school & time was back in my “control.”

    BUT, that’s just not true. Yes, the housework will always be there; yes, the grocery shopping will still need to be done; yes, there will be days or even weeks when my greatly laid-out plans go awry. But I discovered that when I actually SCHEDULED my “fun” time in, I actually started enjoying my hobbies again! It certainly isn’t to the level that it once was & it’s taking me much longer to accomplish my projects, but at least I’m “back in the game” rather than just sitting on the sidelines, waiting for time to pass & feeling more behind in the meantime!

    So for me, scheduling craft nights with friends once or twice a month is a MUST now, rather than a dream or a “used to”. My husband plays hockey one night a week & sometimes I can use that precious alone time to work on a small project as well. I don’t feel guilty, like I should be catching up on housework or something, & best of all it helps to feed my soul & allows me to feel like I’m moving forward.

    Thanks for the great post!

  8. I am a perpetual Lister, and my To Do list is so overwhelming I feel guilty when I take an hour to watch TV or read a book.

    What worked great for me is taking everything that has been on my To Do list for a month (ie scan all notebooks onto the computer and throw them away, put items up for auction on eBay, clean out the hall closet) and put them in a Brilliant Ideas journal. Then they’re off of my list, not cluttering my mind, and they’re there when I feel an itching for a project (which, ironically enough, hasn’t happened yet). And since the notebook is called Brilliant Ideas it doesn’t make me feel bad when a To Do task is not completed – because that means it’s a Brilliant Idea!

    Fantastic post!

  9. Great post!

    I too find myself bogged down with a big list of to dos and try to reward myself with fun after I get my list done. You are so right, the only real solution is to just stop. Draw a line in the sand and live!

    Thank you!

  10. What a great reminder. I’ve tried to shift from ‘to-dos’ to ‘goals’ and to plan to do the less-fun stuff up to about 80%. Seriously, a house that’s 80% clean is good enough for me (I have three little munchkins who help make it messy again anyway) and takes only about 50% of the time. Bills are paid 100%, of course, but 20% of the laundry goes unfolded (that would be underpants, mostly, and pajamas…who needs those folded anyway?). Kids are 95% happy, and I’m 100% more relaxed.
    The other benefit to ‘goals’ over ‘to-dos’ lies in the fact that I feel more inclined to just keep everything picked up around the house when a ‘tidy house’ or ‘neat bedrooms’ is my goal rather than ‘pick up stuff in living room, vacuum, dust’ as a sort of single task.
    Thanks for the post. I love that your posts aren’t too long :)

  11. I never liked the to do list and often got less done after making one-
    now I do have a memory list book where I just have the date- and a one or two word minder if there is something I really need to do…..
    today the list has only 3 things on it-

    and I did do 2 out of 3 –LOL
    I think I need freedom of expression in how I move about in my day….the house seems ok with me just doing as needed and it is not in a mess either-
    I need the memory list now that there is only me and I reached the age of 50-10
    hugs me,

  12. Have a wonderful weekend everyone! I’m really looking forward to what’s coming up next week, and I’ll see you then.

  13. wow! I never thought about life this way.

    I have always been in the ‘Never quit until it’s done’ category. This at times led to things dragging for days, weeks and even months – without getting done of course – because these ‘incomplete’ tasks stop me from picking up the next ones on the list!

    I will take a break from the ‘living life out of lists’ and see how it goes.

    Thank you very much for this insightful reminder! :)

    (Btw, I found your blog via Get Rich Slowly. I am glad I found this.)

  14. So much to do, I simply have to have a to do list, I have to write everything down even if I don’t get to it immediately I know it is somewhere I can go over and remember to do it.


  15. hi Rachel, it’s funny but at my womens weekend we were talking about the fact that we are human beings, not human doings! I like the sound of your friend Gay!
    Hope you have a good weekend!

  16. Ahh… I just spent all afternoon and evening making cards – stamping, gluing, cutting – so refreshing after a week of “To-Do’s!” I highly recommend taking a break every now and then and I need to do it more often! :) (With a Cubs game on in the background, of course!)

  17. Thank you for the gentle reminder. It’s scary how easy it is to forget about the things you love to do. I really had to sit down and think about the things that make me happy and I’m determined to make time for them.

  18. It’s harder if you work and have deadlines though.

    Suggestion: men can do anything women do, so there’s no excude not to share chores. :)
    People can’t believe my boyfriend irons his own stuff! What’s so odd? It only takes practice. (I have to say he has a great mother, not the kind who says “you’re the male child, so I’ll do everything for you”.)

  19. I once lost all my emails at work. It was so liberating! Nothing that bad happened, and I certainly didn’t get fired. Since then, I’ve kept my inbox (which is like my To Do list) at a minimum – only the amount of email that fits on my screen is allowed).