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Toss Your To-Do List

Therapist Julie Hanks, LCSW, Owner and Director of Wasatch Family Therapy, shares tips on how to transform your "To Do" list from a source of stress to a resource for success.


There's nothing wrong with keeping a "To Do" list. Writing down errands, chores, and other things that you'd like to accomplish on a list can be a helpful tool, especially in remembering the details. The trouble with "To Do" lists is not that we use them, but how we use them. In my practice and in my women's workshops I often hear individuals complain of feeling "not good enough" or thinking "I can't seem to get anything done" and use their never-ending "To Do" lists as evidence for their negative self-evaluations. "To Do" lists usually contain things that you may not remember to do, and rarely encompass all of the things that you always remember and automatically take care of each day. Taking an occasional break from your "To Do" list can help you to relax and gain perspective. Practice acknowledging all of your important contributions that never actually make to a "To Do" list.

Tips for Tossing Your "To Do" list:

Try a "Ta Da" List

Try sitting down at the end of the day and listing everything you did that day. The most important things we do to care for ourselves and our relationships usually never make it on the "To Do" list! Include details of small tasks that you, and others at home or work, tend to overlook (i.e. changed the toilet paper rolls, organized the linen closet, finished a report for a co-worker, talked with an elderly neighbor). Remember to include the small relationship contributions that you have done to enrich the lives of those you love (i.e. talked with a friend about family stresses, prepared a church lesson, took your child to the doctor, made a meal for your family).

Here are some questions to help you get started on your "Ta Da" list:

" What did I do today that no one will notice unless it doesn't get done?
" What did I do today to provide physical or emotional support to someone else?
" What did I do today that made life better than yesterday for myself and those I love?
" What did I do today to take care of myself?

Make a "To Be" Goal

Instead of focusing on tasks you'd like to accomplish, toss your "To Do" list and pick one personal quality or character trait you'd like to practice and improve upon throughout the day. Whether it's demonstrating more patience with your elderly parent, practicing increased discipline at work, showing more trust in your spouse, or being a better listener for your child, shifting your focus from what you are doing to who we are being can help you to feel less overwhelmed by life's details and more confident in yourself.

Here's an alphabetized list of suggested personal qualities for your "to be" goals over the next 26 days.

Remember to focus on only one per day:
Attentive
Bold
Creative
Demonstrative
Energetic
Forgiving
Generous
Happy
Imaginative
Jovial
Kind
Loving
Mature
Nice
Observant
Punctual
Quiet
Respectful
Self-disciplined
Tender
Understanding
Vivacious
Witty
eXuberant
Youthful
Zealous

"No More Than 3" Rule

When totally tossing your "To Do" list isn't practical, try limiting the number of items you focus on each day. Instead of having a running "To Do" list with an overwhelming number of items that need to be done over a period of time, try a daily "To Do" list with only 3 items. Limiting your expectations for each day can help you feel more accomplished than looking at the overwhelming number of items that still remain on the list. Renowned author and business management guru Tom Peters has said that the formula for business success is "under promise and over deliver". That same advice applies to success in the business of life!


Julie de Azevedo Hanks, LCSW, founder and director of Wasatch Family Therapy, specializes in psychotherapy with women and couples. She is passionate about women's self-care and emotional health and frequently presents workshops to women's groups around the country. Visit www.wasatchfamilytherapy.com to learn more about counseling services or email julie@wasatchfamilytherapy.com. You may also know Julie as an award-winning singer and songwriter. Visit www.juliedeazevedo.com

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