Thursday, March 14, 2013

Making a To-Don’t List

By Shelly Burke

This week was “paper week”—I spent every spare moment when I wasn’t at work or a meeting finding and writing articles for the April issue of the “Nebraska Family Times.” I love doing this, but by the time the deadline rolls around I’m usually very ready to do something away from the computer. Today I planned to clean my office—a long overdue task and one I needed to get done so Morgan would have a place to sleep next week when she’s home on spring break.

I started out eagerly anticipating getting things organized and arranged—who doesn’t like to walk into a clean office? But after a good start I’d thrown away the obvious trash and filed a few things and…not much else. I found myself listlessly moving papers around and going from the pile on the floor to the pile on the desk to a pile on the chair, shuffling things around…and just not accomplishing much of anything. I finally realized that I didn’t have the alertness (I’m fighting the cold bug that’s been going around) or organizational skills to clean my office today. I decided it was time to make a “to-don’t” list.

I started making “to-don’t” lists when Cody and Morgan were toddlers and I was frustrated during a several-week period in which they passed strep throat and earaches back and forth several times. I’m a list-maker, and take great satisfaction in writing out and then crossing off what needs to be done on any particular day. The weeks in which they were sick it seemed that almost every day my to-do list was pre-empted by doctor visits, coaxing medication down the throats of reluctant children, and trying to get some extra rest myself.  I was frustrated by my seeming lack of accomplishing anything.  

During a cuddle session in the middle of the night (I got my first earache as an adult several years ago—and now I know why kids cry when they have earaches!) I was thinking about all I wanted to accomplish the next day but now-- as I knew I would be making yet another trip to the doctor’s office-- clearly wouldn’t. Then I had a brain storm. Instead of fretting over the un-done things on my “to-do” list I would make a “to-DON’T” list!

That long ago night my “to-don’t” list included “make supper”—I decided I’d get take-out pizza after I took Cody to the doctor. “Pay bills” could wait another day, as could “vacuum” (OK, that waited another three days or so). I had to do some laundry, but instead of washing all the winter coats before I packed them away, I’d just do a few loads of the essentials.

With a sense of satisfaction I realized that by making a “to-don’t” list I’d reprioritized and I’d get the urgent tasks done and have time to do the most important thing—take care of my sick kids.  

Below are two pictures. One is the picture I took and e-mailed to Morgan, of the office “before” I started working. I expected to, several hours later, e-mail her another picture of a spotless, immaculate, well-organized office...but…you can see by the “after” picture that in several hours I didn’t get much done.

Office "before" 
Office "after" 

I posted the pictures on Facebook, laughing at myself, and one friend commented that it was like a challenge in which you’re asked to find the differences between the two pictures. About the only difference you’ll find in these two pictures is that in the “after” picture the wastebasket has a few more things in it, and a few piles are…well…re-arranged. Kind of.

But although I put “clean office” on my “to-don’t” list for the day, I did get a few other things done. I proofread the “Nebraska Family Times” and it’s ready to be printed next week. I got outside on this beautiful day. I wrote this blog post! And I did the most important thing first thing this morning—I spent some time with God and in His Word.

So next time a change of plans or emergency intrudes on your day, or you don’t feel alert enough to open the refrigerator, let alone reorganize your kitchen, or your kids need you…or you just need a break—make a “to-don’t” list, and feel the accomplishment of at least crossing the things off your list that you’re not going to do on that day.

And don’t worry Morgan…I will clean my office tomorrow so you’ll have a place to sleep next week!

“I perceived that there is nothing better for man than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and 
take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.”
                Ecclesiastes 3:12-13

What differences can you spot in the two pictures above? 


  1. Hmmmm...a "to-don't" list. I like it!!

  2. Neat idea - a to-don't list. I like it! Great post.

  3. LOVE this. It comes at a PERFECT time in my life. As a co-host of the A-Z Challenge, those tasks are of utmost importance now, because they way we've divided things up, my jobs are mostly BEFORE the whole marathon starts.
    I'm also a compulsive list maker. I will do something NOT on the list, then add it to the list, so I can cross it off. I like to call it goal oriented. Some call it insane. I guess it's a matter of perspective.
    And thanks for reminding me that I'm not making dinner tonight, I'm throwing corned beef in the crockpot. Sheesh. Almost forgot.
    Welcome to the A-Z, thanks for visiting at Life is Good, and nice to meet a sister in Christ.
    Tina @ Life is Good
    Co-host, April 2013 A-Z Challenge Blog
    @TinaLifeisGood, #atozchallenge

    1. LOL Tina--I've done things and added them to the list just so I can cross them off too! THANK YOU for co-hosting the challenge!

  4. At first I was thinking, "How did you get those pictures of my office?" then I realized they were not quite the same, though very similar. Yes, my office is always in the state of being cleaned and yet I never seem to attain that goal. Oh for some organization!

    Wrote By Rote
    An A to Z Co-host blog

    1. So glad I'm not the only one... :-)

      Thanks for co-hosting the challenge!

  5. I could master a to-don't list!! Making one right now.

  6. Yep, that's how my cleaning days often go. The difference is I actually clean the place, then the kids mess it up right away.

    1. My nest is empty now and although I miss my kids, it's nice to have things STAY clean. Until I mess them up of course.

  7. The "to don't" list concept is helpful in times of distress...especially for non essential tasks such as laundry and vacuuming. A procrastinator like myself, however, needs the "to do" list...for without it, I probably wouldn't ever get anything done. The list helps me to ensure I won't be idle with my time and efforts. I do think both could work hand-in-hand with the "to don't" list working more as a prioritizing tool.


    1. Most days I do use a "to do" list, Nicole, but sometimes a "to-don't" is very necessary. Great idea to use them together!

  8. I love the idea of a to-don't list! ☺

    Thanks for stopping by my blog. I'm your newwest follower. Looking forward to your A to Z posts!

  9. I love lists.. and I shall try making one of 'to-don'ts' for tomorrow.

  10. Couldn't help but giggle a little. You don't know how many times I've said, "Don't worry, Lydia. Your room (my office) will be ready by the time you come home to visit." Ah, the joys of being a mom!

    1. It's always great to see them, isn't it! I'm glad I'm not the only one who does that... :-)


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