Ditch The To Do List

All my life I have been a to-do-list-aholic. I’ve always had at least one on the go for most of my adult life, filled with a mixture of must-dos, should-dos, want-to-dos, and basically any task I thought might be a good idea, regardless of whether I had time to actually do them or not.  I thought it was a sure-fire route to becoming a highly effective person. I loved crossing off items on my list as I completed them, but it was rare that I ever ticked off all the items before starting a new list.

Just before I had baby number 2 in February, I ticked off the final item in my last ever to-do list. Let’s be honest, when you have a small baby you can’t get much done (unless you are very lucky and have one of those magical sleeping babies), and having a long list of tasks you don’t have the time or energy for in the back of your mind is not really helpful for making the most of the time with your baby.

My new approach is this: basically, I either deal with stuff straight away, or it doesn’t get done. I’ve found if I let things pile up I just never have a large enough chunk of time to deal with it. So I try and do things as soon as they come up. That way I never get too far behind with anything. For example I try to put dirty dishes in the dishwasher straight after a meal, rather than letting them pile up on the side.  If I’m checking my emails, I archive every email after I’ve read it (and dealt with it if necessary).  If things are important enough, they get done, and if they’re not, they can be done another day.

The only exception I make is, sometimes I make a short list of tasks I need to do when my eldest is at preschool. Because otherwise I walk back in the front door and my mind goes blank, and I spend the morning pottering around the house, and then remember eleventy things I really needed to do as soon as it’s pick up time again.  But if I don’t get everything done I throw the list away.

I’ve definitely found this approach helps me be a bit more present with my two daughters. I have a daily routine of chores I try to get done but beyond that I just try to be available to them. This has helped me deal with the realities of having 2 small children as having a big task list would just be a stick to beat myself over the head with. My priorities at the moment are a) keeping everyone alive, b) making sure the baby gets enough sleep and c) making sure I have plenty of quality time with my preschooler.  I’ve found the best way to achieve this is to be as flexible as possible and ignore the jobs I want to do around the house.  The children won’t be small for long and in a few months I’ll have more time to work on those projects.

And at the end of the day when they are tucked up in bed, I’m not starting on a list of jobs, I’m allowing myself time to relax, read, watch TV or even just go to bed early. I need to make sure my own cup is filled before I can look after anyone else’s needs. And what task is more important than that?

Simplifying

Back in January I set myself a buy nothing new challenge.  I haven’t been 100% successful with that, but over the past 4 months my focus has changed and now I’m making simplicity a priority in my life as a whole, not just with regards to shopping.  Here are the areas I am trying to simplify:

House: Although I failed at the buy nothing new challenge, I am still trying to stem the flow of new items into the house by shopping more mindfully.  If I need or want something I try and find something we already own to fulfil that need, borrow it, or buy it second hand.  However I have a very limited amount of free time and sometimes I feel it makes more sense to just go to the shops or order it online, and use my time for something else.  On the other hand, I am trying to declutter our house like crazy.  In particular I’m trying to clear out clothes, toys, books, excess arts and crafts materials, baby items (as we stop using them) as well as general household clutter.

Diet: Food is a big priority for me, as I find that what I eat makes a huge difference to how I feel, plus I also enjoy cooking and eating delicious food.  My focus is on eating simple, real foods like vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, nuts and seeds most of the time, and less processed food.  I am also mostly wheat, gluten and dairy free.

Mindfulness: Being at home with two small children is really hard work, but can be really enjoyable too.  I want to make the most of this time as I know I will miss it when it is gone.  I have found that practising mindfulness helps me stay present with my two girls and enjoy the little things more, as well as feeling calmer and less stressed in general, having more patience and losing my temper less.

Media: Does anyone else find media, especially social media, totally addictive?  Let’s face it, taking care of little people can be quite boring sometimes, and it is tempting to reach for distractions, especially when you can access the whole of the internet from a device that fits in your back pocket.  But I restrict how much screen time my 3 year old daughter has, and I feel I need to be a good role model to her and apply the same rule to myself.  I also don’t want her to feel that my phone is more important to me than she is.  It’s hard to find the right balance – I like to have something to read or look at while my eldest is at preschool and the baby is asleep in the sling so that I don’t go completely insane, but it’s addictive and I find myself looking at my phone all the time, just to check whether I’ve got any messages or notifications.

What am I hoping to achieve by simplifying my life?  More time, more money, more space, more freedom, more happiness and more enjoyment.

Finding Time for Mindfulness

When you are a mum there isn’t much time for formal meditation. However even the busiest person can find time for mindfulness. Mindfulness is like meditation on the go. I find since I have started practising mindfulness whenever I remember I have more energy, I am able to be more patient, I lose my temper less and I enjoy the little things more. I also find it easier to be present and pay attention to the here and now rather than seeking distraction (e.g. Facebook, checking email etc).

Here are my favourite ways to practise mindfulness and being present whilst looking after my 2 young children:
– on a walk paying attention to the sights, sounds and smells around instead of being on autopilot
– eating or drinking mindfully, paying attention to the taste and texture of what I am eating/drinking, even if just for a couple of bites
– take a deep breath and release any tension that has built up in my body through the day
– focus fully on any mundane, repetitive task I am doing, telling myself over and over ‘I am washing up/chopping/hanging out washing’ to help keep my mind present
– look out the window for a minute
– focusing on my breathing for a moment

My practice is very imperfect and I am no Zen master but it all helps. I think of it as a mini-break for my mind, a moment of peace from the chaos around me and in my own head.

What are your favourite ways to practise mindfulness?