There’s just so much stuff you HAVE to do in life. You have to go to work. You have to make dinner and clean yours house. You absolutely have to do your taxes each year.
But do you really?
Are you a victim of a massive list of must-do items . . . or are you unconsciously choosing to do those things? Your to-do list may actually be a reflection of your priorities and goals. If you look at each item on your list as something moving you one step closer to your goals — financial health, family relationships, a welcoming home, pursuit of your career dreams — you’re no longer a slave to your list.
You’re the master.
But what if your must-do list is out-of-whack with your goals? Then it’s time to consider some alternatives! Realign your life with your priorities. What’s right for someone else may be totally wrong for you. Reserve judgment, and ask yourself whether these common have-to tasks are activities you want to do or activities you’re prepared to change.
Make the bed.
Maybe I’m weird, but I’ve always felt the need to make my bed. For me, an unkempt bed makes an otherwise immaculate room look totally disheveled . . . and it stresses me out. I love being able to sit on the smooth cover of a made bed to read or watch T.V. without getting tangled in a messy pile of sheets. The time commitment is outweighed by the subsequent satisfying feeling.
. . . but maybe that’s not you at all!
- Make the bed only when you have company. If your goal is to save yourself time on a regular day while presenting a tidy, welcoming environment to your guests, selective bed-making is the perfect solution.
- Never make the bed. If an extra minute of sleep is your priority or if a well-kept bed isn’t one, why bother? No one will make you.
- Come to an agreement with your spouse. If your spouse does care about a made bed and you value your spouse’s happiness over the annoyance of this small chore, you can choose to make the bed, share bed-making duties with your spouse, or agree to do a chore your spouse hates while he tackles the messy sheets.
- Pay someone to do it. Making the bed (and household upkeep in general) has a price attached to it. Some people wouldn’t dream of paying for the service when they could do it themselves, but that doesn’t have to be you. If you would happily exchange a dollar value for freedom from bed-making, see whether your kid or a maid service will accept that value and handle the chore for you.
It’s important to me that my family doesn’t eat garbage and that we have meals that we enjoy. In general, I find it both relaxing and gratifying to prepare meals at home. Plus — whether because I’m used to my own cooking or I grew up eating tasty, well-prepared food — I almost always prefer homemade food over the frozen aisle, takeout, or overcooked pasta in watery sauce from the pizza place.
But that’s just me! Do you have to make dinner? Go food shopping? Prepare your kids’ lunches for school the night before? Not really!
- Buy your meals from restaurants or pick up prepared foods from the supermarket. If you hate cooking or value your time over the money you’ll spend, get someone else to make your meals. Your only job will be to eat.
- Use a food delivery service to have someone else do your food shopping. If you loathe time spent in the supermarket with a squeaky cart and place a greater value on your time, energy, and sanity than the cost of a service, choose to spend your money on some hired help.
- Buy work lunches and have your kids buy lunch or school or take prepared lunches. If you can’t stand the nightly task of getting lunches together at your home, you can opt to spend more for cafeteria food.
Chauffeur your kids everywhere.
Are you constantly driving your kids and their friends? School drop-off and pick-up, sports practice, music lessons, art or dance lessons, kids’ birthday parties, play dates, field trips, outings to the park or the zoo . . . the list never ends. Maybe you feel as though you spend more time looking in the rearview mirror at your kid’s face than you do looking at him head-on.
- Limit your kids’ extra-curricular activities. Maybe your kid loves piano, ballet, and her travel soccer time. If you value your family time and sanity over your kid’s desire to tackle all of these activities at once, cap the extras at one or two. If your child is invited to four birthday parties next month, tell him to pick his favorite two to attend.
- Set up a car pool. If you’re willing to build friendly connections with other parents and give them your trust in shuttling around your kid, you can free up some of your time and gas money.
- Give up on activities and parties. If you or your family is exhausted or going through a crisis, there’s no shame in declining all invitations. Prioritize your mental health and your family time.
Manage your finances.
I’m a mathematician, so I like numbers . . . and I trust my ability to pay bills, balance the checkbook, handle investments, file taxes, and allocate retirement savings.
Plenty of folks are not numbers people! Lots of you would rather visit the dentist than deal with tax forms. Feel free to admit if you’re not mathematically gifted or too disorganized to juggle your accounts and ensure that all of your bills are paid on time.
- Hand over the financial duties to your spouse. If you distrust your money-handling abilities and believe in those of your spouse, you may be willing to sacrifice direct control for increased confidence that your finances are being handled well. Note: No matter who’s doing the legwork in your family, you should always be aware of the big picture of your finances, check in regularly on the details, and know how to access your accounts in case of disaster.
- Automate what you can. If you are happy to part with some direct control of your finances and possibly some extra cash, you can choose the time-saving options of automatic bill payment, target retirement funds, and tax accounting software.
- Hire a professional. Your priority may be your financial health over the fees you’ll spend for a pro or the financial privacy you’ll surrender. In that case, you might be happy to place your trust and your money in the hands of someone else.
Do you dread the mania of holiday shopping or the last-minute gift run for the friend’s party your kid just remembered? Is your gift list depressingly huge? Maybe you put the effort into making or buying someone special gifts but you never get a positive response. Try something different.
- Have a list of go-to gifts. Kid’s parties, weddings, graduations, anniversaries . . . if you don’t mind losing some element of personalization in favor of saving time, always give the same gift. Give a blender for wedding, a puzzle for a birthday, etc.
- Slash your list of giftees. If you choose to give gifts but value your time and money over the feeling you’d get from giving to every person on your list, do some editing. Have your kids give their teachers a card instead of a gift, or cut gifts to your next door neighbors entirely.
- Keep a selection of gifts on hand. When it’s time for that kid’s birthday party, have your child choose one of the books or puzzles from a box of gifts you’ve already purchased. You may lose the joy of finding that perfect gift, but you’ll save yourself time and money.
Your priorities are your own. Don’t feel guilted into saving money on food costs if you just moved or had a baby. Don’t think you need to perfect your home organization system rather than spend quality time with your family.
Decide on your goals. Choose activities that align with those goals, and give yourself a break with the rest.
What must-do item are you willing to give up to focus on what really matters?
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