Reconsidering the To-Do List

Growing up, I was taught to do the work first, have fun later. It became a habit, one that worked fairly well over time. Change and feed  the baby first, then make and eat your own lunch. Do the laundry before you sit down to read a book, so you’ll have clean clothes to wear. Clean the house before you go to the movies so you won’t have to clean the house at night, waking the neighbors (in an apartment).

Could be my to-do list, but it’s a photo of Jack Kerouac’s novel “On the Road” which, after two years of research, he wrote in three weeks on a roll of teletype paper.

That “work first, fun later” became so ingrained, the habit became part of my way of thinking. I never questioned it. Now it’s time to question that way of thinking.

First consideration: art is work. If I think of creative time as fun, it will always come last, when I’m tired and not ready for deep creative work. Creative work is part of my life, and needs to be honored as an important part of my life.

Second consideration: Consider the time something will take. It might be worthwhile to do something that takes a short time and it fun between two items that take a longer time. For example, I love stopping by the library to look at their sale books. These $1-$4 bargains are great for artwork. It makes sense to go to the library between getting gas and picking up pet food, since the library is between these two points. Putting it off for another time wastes gas and makes me more likely to do the chores.

Third consideration: Priorities trump labels. There are boring chores that can be done while watching TV. The other day, I realized that I had accumulated a huge amount of spam and pingbacks on my website. These can’t be erased all at once, but only 20 at a time. Because I have a special offer up on my website (for readers of Quilting Arts magazine’s October/November issue), I didn’t want 3,300 comments to distract people to spam sites. I immediately began to erase them. But wait–not so fast–this is something that is mindless. I can do it while I’m doing the laundry, waiting for the floor to dry, or while watching the national news. Best of all, I can combine listening to an audio book or podcast late at night, when I’m too tired to do deep creative work.

Looking at my to-do list with a fresh eye to priorities, time and labels is a good way to create a new schedule for fall, when my morning walk starts to be at later times (walking at dawn is no longer a 4:30 a.m. start, it’s closer to 6:00 a.m.) and I have creative time before my walk.

Let me know if you are going to changing your schedule. It might be an interesting experiment.

–Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach and a writer. She also teaches what she knows.