Confessions of a To-Do List Junkie


This is the first in a new series at MKE Moms Blog called Perspectives in Parenting, where we get to hear about different approaches to universal parenting issues. Breastfeeding vs. bottle feeding, private school vs. public, cloth diapering vs. disposable, and so much more. The goal is to share how we all find different ways to handle parenting challenges that work for our families that may be completely different from how others do it. And that is OKAY. Got a topic you would like to see us tackle? Let us know!

“Hello, my name is Heather, and I’m a to-do list junkie.”

(all together, now) “Hiiiiiiii, Heather.”

Last year, I bought myself a swanky new planner. It was one of the fancy ones – one that has a two-page spread dedicated to each week and lots of columns and headings with room for recipes and contact lists and endless to-dos lists of many sorts. I opened it and was in awe.

I joined a Facebook group for users of such planners. I found myself giddy as I scrolled past picture after picture of beautiful planner pages filled with stickers and washi tape color-coding and organizational genius. I was excited. I was inspired. My world felt so chaotic and I thought this could help. So I set to work.

Man, I’ve loved that planner.

For a while, it really DID help. It was so helpful to me to see EVERYTHING that needed to be done in one day. And I mean EVERYTHING: my daily workout, switching the laundry, meal planning, my daily Bible reading, scrubbing the floors, etc…

I felt less overwhelmed. I felt more in control. And truly, nothing felt better than being able to check something off of my to-do list. It was an adrenaline rush. A high of sorts. Getting stuff done gave me purpose. Checking things off that list made me feel accomplished. I had a tried and true SYSTEMand by-George, it was working.

At least, kind of.

Small CrisisYou see, I have toddlers. Two children under 3 years old, to be precise. And it doesn’t take a rocket-scientist to figure out, that more often than not, life is more unpredictable than “planner-worthy.” And of course, the harder I tried to live within the pretty stickers, washi-tape, and checking off as many boxes as possible, the more irritable I became. Because every time I turned around to accomplish something on my to-do list, “THESE KIDS were in the way.”


“These kids.” The kids who I thought I would never be blessed to have. “These kids.” The kids I had wept over when I thought I was losing them during my pregnancies. “These kids.” The kids who are growing up way too fast and are only asking to be with me and received love from me with each request and cry and pine. *These kids* are “in the way”…?

The moment I heard myself mutter the words “these kids”, I knew I had a problem.

I was ADDICTED to my to-do lists.

I’m no stranger to addiction. I had a severe addiction to an eating disorder in my late teens and early 20’s that almost took my life; one that took years of therapy, counseling, prayer, and accountability to overcome. I went on to study addictions counseling and am working on my masters degree in professional counseling. I know the terminology and signs and symptoms.

And in this moment, I felt that all-too-familiar rush of irritation that comes when you can’t your “addict fix”… the hostility you feel at those who get in the way of you getting to your drug… and I realized that my to-do lists had very much become a drug. The “high” came from checking off boxes and making my lists look pretty. And the biggest red flag? They were harming my relationships.

My to-do lists are good; don’t get me wrong. I need structure and organization in my life. But somewhere among the stickers and washi tape and pretty little checked-off boxes, I lost focus. My focus became on my tasks instead of the people who I wanted to serve by doing those tasks. And getting the tasks accomplished had become more important than loving my family.

So, two weeks ago, I decided I needed a shift of focus. I needed to separate myself from the addiction. I needed to “detox” from the to-do list. I opened my planner and wrote in big words across both pages:

Untitled design“LOVE THEM WELL.”

I got all sweaty and anxious as I scribbled (in simple, black ink) across those pretty straight lines. I’m pretty sure my vision got blurry and my pulse raced a bit. But there was something truly liberating about sitting back and looking at those three words.

I loved it so much I posted that phrase in several key areas of my house. And guess what?

By-George, it’s working. 

My attitude is changing. My actions are following. Sometimes, it’s just taking a deep breath before reacting to a situation. Sometimes it’s taking an extra moment to look soak into my daughters 4-tooth smile instead of moving on to the next thing I have to do. Sometimes Many times, it’s messing up but taking the time to sit down and apologize. And goodness, I’m not great at it. But I’m growing. I’m learning. I’m being intentional on this journey. And it’s awesome.

And you know what? The “tasks” are still getting done. But I’ve found that by putting the ultimate goal of the tasks in front of my face every moment of every day instead of the tasks themselvesmy addiction is moving from checking boxes in a planner to learning to love well

And that’s a “high” I can live with.

How do you keep the balance in life? Is anything, even something good, standing in the way of you being able to love well?

Check out the rest of the Perspectives in Parenting Series and join the conversation!

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