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.


16 thoughts on “Reconsidering the To-Do List

  1. Oh, the story of my life. Work before play, vegetables before dessert, responsibilities first . . . I was always responsible and they could have become first, last and always but for a strong rebellious streak inherited from my mother. So although I haven’t had black forest cake for breakfast from quite some time, I can decide just how often I clean windows etc. In fact if I clean them with children around it always ends up as fun . . . now THAT’S multi-tasking!

    I’m learning to play again and to give time to including the pleasurable work of rediscovering and honouring my self.

  2. I went to work to earn money to have fun. While I was at work I was encouraged to have more fun. After work I went bowling for fun but I wasn’t very good so I worked harder at it. Then I joined a gym and worked out, but it was just for fun. I work better when it’s fun, and fun is more fun when I put in more work. I got paid for work, but then I got good enough at bowling to turn pro and got paid for fun. But when I was a pro, the thing I started for fun was work, and wasn’t much fun. I missed my old job because doing that, which I started for work, was more fun than the fun I’m doing for work. So I quit the pro tour because it was too much work and not fun, but then I had to go back to work again to earn money to have more fun. I got my old job back, and that was more fun, and I was able to earn enough to have fun, so I went bowling but I’d gotten very rusty so I had to put in more work in order for it to be fun.

    What were we talking about, again?

  3. When we’re lying on our deathbed, we will never say we wish we had spent more time cleaning house. For me personally, I need to have things in order and organized, otherwise I feel like my entire life is in complete chaos. I clean and pick up along the way, rarely doing a full-blown cleaning (usually when out of town company is coming to stay overnight), but since I pick up along the way, our condo is in order and tidy.

    My biggest struggle is prioritizing my creative time/work. I don’t just look at creative time as “fun” time, I consider it to be important work that I’m doing, but my creative mind is all over the place and I can’t focus on any one project long enough to see it through. I definitely need to change my schedule and set a fixed amount of time every day to do creative work, even if I feel like I’m not accomplishing much. I have too many ideas, too much monkey-mind, so it stops me and I do nothing. I know better but so far I haven’t changed this self-defeating habit. Ughhhhh!

  4. A lot has been written about multi-tasking, but your comment about labels really spoke to me. In the past, multi-tasking to me meant doing work-related activites, chore-related activities, relaxing/family-related activites, creative-related activities (usually in that order). My mindset prevented crossing any of the labels. I have finally reprogramed my habits and now catch up on my favorite TV programs while eating lunch, do the laundry while creating scrapbook pages, doodle on ATC cards while waiting on hold, stop at an art gallery between client appointments, do art-related tutorials in the morning and the dishes in the afternoon. All the activities for the day still get completed, but I feel like I’ve accomplished so much more.

  5. I’ve always wondered how you accomplish all that you do-now I know! You are a highly disciplined being. Good for you! My mother was of a similar ilk. At some level, I have always resisted the work first mantra. Life is indeed way too short. Those dishes in the sink are not going to go anywhere, while an opportunity to have dinner with a friend may not come along every day. An hour on the porch when the weather is beyond perfect is a moment that deserves to be honored-as do one’s creative impulses.

    Less self criticism and less self judgement might be the lesson to learn and practice. Get that book going!

  6. This has long been a challenge for me. It is a trap because, as the old saying goes, “a woman’s work is never done.” There is always something that can/should be done. I have finally worked out a fairly good schedule that works for me. Every other Monday I do laundry and clean my small apartment. I live alone so it doesn’t get dirty, I put things away as I go along and do small bits of cleaning as necessary. I rarely prepare a meal that takes longer than 15 or 20 minutes. I am finally learning to relax into spending more time having fun. It has taken many years,bedause that sense of reponsibility has been difficult to overcome. Women are really good at multi-tasking and your suggestion to do this is a great one. I have moved my sketchbook and paints to my sofa so I can relax and watch TV while I do my daily sketching/painting. It is working well for me.

    Life is too short. Your suggestion to find ways to cut corners with the have-tos and have more fun is a great one!!

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