To-Do Lists: Balancing Responsibilities with Self-Care

An open journal says "to do list."The topic for this article came to me as I was stressing about getting the taxes finished, managing to find the time for my daughter’s softball games, my own exercise class, two full days of clients, grocery shopping, laundry, paying bills, and figuring out what to make for dinner. And that was just the next 48 hours. In addition, my bedroom is half painted, I have a huge sewing project to finish, and my garden looks as neglected as it is. I realized that such is the life in today’s world. I know I’m not alone.

What is it about life these days that seems to enslave us to this crazy, anxiety-ridden lifestyle? Is it poor time management? A tendency to be overachievers? Or just a plain old need to torture ourselves? While the answer may vary from person to person, I find that it’s usually a combination of all the above, with a little bit of a personal twist thrown in for everyone.

It’s easy today to feel overwhelmed. What’s hard is learning how to deal with it. It’s counter-intuitive, but it’s when we are the busiest that we need to remember to slow down and get things in perspective.

What I try to do, and what I often suggest to my clients, is to have a “What I’m Making Room For” list—a personalized list of what you want to have/make room for in your life. This list can be long or short, but is a written reminder of what your goals/needs/wants/desires are for yourself and your life. Common list items are things such as “getting regular exercise,” “eating healthy,” “spending time with my spouse,” etc. More individualized items are things such as “gardening,” “painting,” “writing a book,” and “spirituality.” Whatever you want to have/make room for goes on this list. Once you have created it, stick it up where you can see it every day. This is your personal roadmap to keep you on the main highway, so to speak. If you end up on a side road, it’s because you have chosen to go that direction—not because you weren’t paying attention.

Regularly referring to this list serves as a reminder that you have choices, for the most part, about how you spend your time (or at least about the attitude you have when you don’t have a choice). Consulting your list helps you evaluate the things that come into your life by asking yourself “is doing/having this thing going to help me move toward any item on my list.” If the answer is yes, you can feel good about the fact that when you decide to add a yoga class to your schedule, it is because “getting exercise” is something you have said you want to make room for. It will also help you realize that it’s okay to say no to an invitation because you have planned to spend the day pruning your grape vines (if socializing isn’t on your list, but gardening is).

By doing your best to make self-care decisions about what you commit to, take on, and otherwise feel responsible for, you can slowly create the life you want for yourself—not just unconsciously accept the one that is in front of you. So based on my own list, I realize that the grocery shopping, the laundry, and the bills can wait for a few more days. I can allow myself to enjoy the rest of my day, as what is left is based on my chosen priorities (except, of course, for the taxes).

© Copyright 2010 by Tamara Auger, MA LPCC, CMT, NCC, BCPC. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • eliza

    April 15th, 2010 at 2:33 AM

    While I do think that women have a difficult time putting their needs first I have to tell you that this is such a hard thing for me to do too. That’s why I am up most mornings at either 4:30 or 5am just so I can not only have a little alone time but also get in a good run before the day really even begins for others in my house. If I did not do it that way there would be no time to fit it in. It’s so much more than being about wanting to make time for something like this- many women have to consider child care issues too, and the fact that you can’t just leave your young kids at home alone while you go on a 5 mile run to get a little “me”time. Society as a whole makes it very difficult for women to make time for themselves, unless it is at ungodly hours either late at night or early in the morning and this probably has a lot to do with why women stay more stressed than men.

  • Herbert

    April 15th, 2010 at 6:43 AM

    what is particularly affecting today’s women is that they need to concentrate on their careers while the household chores have not reduced one bit…part of the solution may be to take only what you can handle and not commit your time to very request that you may get…learning to say no also helps!

  • PAM

    April 15th, 2010 at 11:48 AM

    Life has become more and more hectic for everyone in general and women in particular.i say this because more and more women are becoming career-focussed,and even though their focus is turning towards their careers,their duties at home are not taking any rest…they have to work both at home and in the workplace…there is absolutely no time to relax except for the few that can really afford it.

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