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Four To-Do Lists


Have you ever sat down and thought about everything you have to do? I mean everything. This isn't an exercise I recommend doing unprepared. You may want to grab a drink, a paper bag, and even a good friend for moral support. It is overwhelming. The sheer number of things we are responsible for is completely and utterly ridiculous, and on most days seemingly impossible. I was once in the midst of this thought process at a traffic light – I admit timing isn't my best asset. I began to cry and sweat while the cars behind me honked.

When I finally got home, I decided there had to be a better way to manage all of these to-dos. So I listed out everything. Everything. Then I spent 20 minutes crying in the bathroom wondering why anyone wants to grow up. When I pulled myself together, I asked, “Why do I have to do this?” for every item listed. I eventually came up with four reasons and made a list under each reason.

There are four lists of things to be done – Things I Must Do, Things I Want to Do, Things People Expect Me to Do, and Things I Think People Expect Me to Do. If these four lists are out of balance, life gets, well, out of balance. I can always tell when I need to reevaluate my list.

It’s the middle of the night and my mind won’t turn off. It is running through a list of things that didn't get done, and then it runs through the list of new things to do. I toss and turn, certain that if I can just find the right position, I will hit the off switch to my brain. But the trick that turned it off last time isn't working tonight. So now I turn on the instant replay of that incident. The one where I felt like a failure. My mind inserts different scenarios, but it’s always the same outcome; I feel like a failure. Eventually I drift off to sleep again, but my alarm immediately sounds, and the list begins running again.

After a few nights of that insanity, I realize that I have too many things on my Things People Expect Me to Do and Things I Think People Expect Me to Do lists. And my Things I Want to Do list is running short.

So how do you know what “to-do” goes on which list? Here are some guidelines I use.

Things I Must Do: There are a couple of things to consider here. First, there is literally no one else to do it. I didn't say, “No one else wants to do it.” Secondly, actual harm (physical, mental, legal, financial) will come if you don’t do this. Think bills, taxes, medications, meals, hygiene, etc.

Things I Want to Do: This is the best list – but I find sometimes the most difficult to create. What do YOU want to do? Is there an old hobby you want to pick back up, or maybe a new one? Perhaps it’s just a bubble bath or glass of wine with a friend. Whatever it is, big or small, write it down. Include things to do today, this week, this month, and this year.

Things People Expect Me to Do: Do you take off work for every doctor appointment your parents make? What have you taken on simply because someone asked? A committee at church or your child’s school? An extra project at work? Grocery shopping for Mom and Dad? Write it all down.

Things I Think People Expect Me to Do: The first thing on this list is holiday cards, birthday cards and thank you notes. You have my permission to stop sending them – pick up the phone and extend your best wishes or thanks. Next, list everything you do because, “If I don’t do it nobody else will.” If you don’t iron Mom’s bed sheets, no one else will. If you don’t make homemade mashed potatoes, no one else will.

Now you have your list. Cross off everything from the “Things I Think People Expect Me to Do” list. Keep this list clear. None of it matters. If someone expects you to do something, make them ask for it. And then, feel free to say the magical word, “No.”

Your goal should be to find one or two things on the other lists that you can ask for help with.

Perhaps you have a teenager or other family members who can pick up grocery duty for your parents. You and your siblings can split appointments or pitch in to hire a caregiver for these things. If you need help cleaning your home because you spend so much time as a caregiver, perhaps someone at your church would be willing to help. There’s that neighbor boy who might like an extra $10 a week to mow or shovel. And don’t forget about your Things I Want to Do list. Ask for help learning a new hobby, ask for some respite care so you can go on that weekend getaway with your husband.

Don’t let all of your to-do lists run your life. Tell every task where it belongs. And if you need a friend for moral support, let me know. I’ll bring the drinks.

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. January 18, 2015 at 11:42 pm | Posted by Danita

    i have no one to turn to either... I am the prime caregiver for my husband whom is still at home and my mama in the nursing home!! I have one cousin I could call for help with my mother of it were an emergency!!! It is an issue every week at the Nhome! She doesn't have dementia but is leaning more toward it with each passing day! My husband can't drive due to seizures because of a pituitary tumor. He was given 30 doses of radiation which damaged the left front temporal lobe! Of course, this is the memory area so.... Does not remember a lot! Some days I just think I will pack up and leave because I am so frustrated with myself. I feel I done exhibit the patience with each of them! It is a continuous process of repeating things ! I gave up my job to be with them and for my health as well! ( I have fibromyalgia). I know some do not understand! I have 30 1/2 years to a teaching job! I need caregiver help for me! There are no support systems that I am aware for me! However, I read your posts each day! Thank you!


  2. January 14, 2015 at 11:43 pm | Posted by Karen Butt

    Let me first say I cry every day. My house is a mess, I have too much to do and my organisation is out the window. I have no one to help. No relatives live close enough. My brother passed away 4 years ago at Christmas time so I no longer have his support either. l don't even know how I would start this list. Any and all suggestions very much appreciated.


    • January 15, 2015 at 9:41 am | Posted by Cat Koehler

      Karen, you have so much on your plate and it is scary to think about it all at once. Schedule an hour in the next week of some alone time - even if it's locked in the bathroom. Think about the last seven days and write down everything you did - everything. If you're not sure if it should be listed, it should be. Then go through your list and as ask yourself why you do each thing - assign one of the categories (Must Do, Want to Do, I'm Expected to Do, I Think I'm Expected to Do). Now your going to re categorize everything into those four lists. Put a big X through Things I Think I'm Expected to Do. Then smile! Now take it one thing at a time and find help. It must be terribly difficult not having family nearby, and I honestly can't imagine the loss of a sibling - I'm so sorry. Do you attend a church? They often have resources that can help. Just pick one thing and let people know you're looking for help. "I really need someone who can come in and help me with some house work for a couple of hours every week. Let me know if you hear of anyone." Sometimes we just have to put our needs out to the universe. Next month, pick another item on your list and do the same thing - ask for help. People truly want to help, they just need to be asked, and you need to be specific about the help you need. Good luck, Karen (and no one's final words were ever "I wish I had kept a cleaner house.")


    • January 15, 2015 at 12:47 pm | Posted by Donna Hereford

      Hi, Karen--I am new to this forum; I have been caring for my mom for 15 years now; my siblings all live in other states; I feel pretty much alone with my responsibilities . I will share this: God has given me strength to deal with the most crucial parts of being a caregiver. My car is stuffed with my mother's laundry; I constantly find her underwear mixed in with mine because I do her laundry and occasionally get hers mixed in with mine. I have gained 40 pounds and blame it on my mother (shame on me!!). So when I pray, I feel relief because everything seems to be put into perspective. I am learning to let go. Like Cat's list you just cannot do it all. Do make some fun time for yourself even if your house is a mess.The mess will not hurt you, but the stress will. I have a great remedy for cleaning. Purchase several large cheap baskets, pick up things that are just laying around (better put your bills and paperwork at a desk before you toss anything in the baskets). Have a basket for each room; fill it up with mess and hide the basket; More than likely you will not miss any of the contents. But then if you HAVE to have something you've hidden, at least you can figure out which room to look in. If you don't have to search for something for a long while, perhaps you don't need it anyway, so toss the whole basket! Believe me, it feels great to do that. I hope you do not think this presumptuous. I wish you the best. Also--there are lots of organization tips you can access online and are FREE! Just Google "Household Organization" or "Time Management" and you will be amazed at what you will find. Good luck.


  3. January 14, 2015 at 10:57 pm | Posted by Carol Sinclair

    Find this helpful. Find that a lot of those who expect too much from me are siblings who, rightfully, ought to be doing a lot of what I'm doing, rather than appearing briefly to criticize, so learning to be very assertive and not be their maid, scapegoat and punching bag would have helped me ten years ago, but is helping me now that I'm beginning to be able to tell them where to get off. Or rather, how to jump on - the bandwagon of help for our parents.


  4. January 14, 2015 at 8:41 pm | Posted by Jennifer Cannon

    I completely understand caregiver stress. I also am a caregiver of a family member, my dad he has Dementia. I am a manager at an Assisted Living community so also work alot of hours. He has declining in status and soon will need more assistance than what I can provide working, taking care of my children and trying to attend school functions. My husband and I try to keep him active and interested in doing things but will not go anywhere unless it is with us. So little stressed. So I understand but I do love working with the elderly and have for a long time they have a very special place in my heart.


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