Making Peace with My To-Do List

I used to have a bathroom clock. It was small, red, and didn’t fog up during a steamy shower. I moved a lot in my twenties, and the bathroom clock was always one of the first items unpacked. Logistically, I depended on it to pace my morning routine. Emotionally, it was a visible sign, along with my refrigerator magnets and key basket, that a new apartment was home.

Making Peace with my to-do list

A panel on the back provided access for battery and time changes. Over the years, the hard rubber tab to open the panel fell off, and I MacGuyvered a solution using a butter knife and poor judgment.

At some point after my first baby was born, the batteries died. I added it to my mental to-do list, but the list was now extensive and ragged. I got used to checking the time on my phone instead. I’m not sure exactly how long the hands sat still, but Daylight Savings came and went with no need for adjustments. My year moved forward, and the clock stayed frozen in time.

My procrastination was epic.

This was our only bathroom and guests would comment on the dead clock. “Yes,” I would say, “we know.” After seasons of delay, decisive action was necessary. One day, I grabbed the butter knife and wiggled the back panel off. I popped in fresh batteries, and…nothing. The clock was broken, probably had been all along. Is that a metaphor for something? I’m too tired to be certain.

Here’s what I know for sure. That clock hung on the wall well past its usefulness because at the same time, it dangled at the tattered, almost forgotten end of my to-do list. Let’s call that space the “Red Clock Zone” – the dimension where tasks float in a perpetual low-priority state, frozen in time. Are your neighbor’s Christmas lights still up? If so, they may be in the Red Clock Zone.

Here’s another example from mine: I need to patch a hole in a hand-knit baby blanket that my dog chewed four years ago. FOUR YEARS AGO. At the rate I’m going, that baby will grow up, learn how to knit, and patch his own blanket.

I’m not proud of dragging my feet, but I’ve also made peace with the Red Clock Zone of my to-do list.

Whether it’s due to changing priorities or epic procrastination, it’s okay to let some tasks wait until our time and energy are ready to embrace them.

Making Peace with my to-do list

The key was shifting my thinking from “I can’t do it all” to “I choose not to do it all.” An “I can’t” mentality created the perception that I was not in control. “I choose not to” gave me back the reins to direct my time and energy. It let me be realistic in managing my to-do list and define success on my own terms.

To illustrate: I love to bake for potlucks, but as a new mom I wasn’t feeling it. Telling myself “I can’t” set me up for feelings of disappointment and failure. Instead, I decided that cooking an 8-pound baby was a good enough, and let myself off the hook for close to a year. One day I wanted to make cookies, so I did. I chose not to bake, until I chose to bake.

All along, the power was mine. 

Today, I no longer have a broken clock hanging in my bathroom–but don’t be fooled. In the shadows of my to-do list, you will find thank-you notes never written, moving boxes still packed, and best intentions to print photos for albums. I’m okay with that. Choosing to not do it all means I organize my hours around the things that take top priority, and hopefully those are the same things that bring me peace, happiness, and fulfillment. The rest of that stuff…I’ll get around to it eventually. Maybe.


Susie is a mom of two, book-lover and frequent challah baker. In addition to working at The University of Iowa, Susie is a PTA volunteer and sorority advisor. She loves date nights in the Ped Mall, catching a show at the Englert, and most of all, cuddling her family on the couch.



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