What I Learned About To-Do Lists from My Eight-Year-Old Son

This is a guest post by Barry Hill, Jr., a storyteller, blogger, speaker, and barista. You can read more on blog, The Ordained Barista and follow him on Facebook and Twitter. If you want to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.

I love to-do lists. Are you a to-do list person? Not sure? Take this one question quiz to find out if you might be an official to-do list person.

To-Do List -Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/SparkleArt, Image #5092097

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/SparkleArt

Question: Have you ever completed a task that wasn’t on your to-do list, and then added it on to your to-do list, after you completed the task, just so you could enjoy the twisted satisfaction of crossing that task off of your to-do list?

If you have, then you, my friend, are officially a to-do list person. Welcome to the club.

The major challenge I have with my to-do lists, like many people, is that I have more tasks to do on them then any ten people could possibly finish in a week. Sound familiar? Because we live such frenetic lives, we can quickly become mired in the tyranny of the urgent, and prioritizing my tasks for the week becomes paramount if I am going to move closer to my goals.

One of the questions I like to ask myself, in order to determine what tasks get assigned a higher priority, is the following,

“What tasks on this to-do list should, or can only, be accomplished by me?”

We can all think of tasks in our area of responsibilities, for many reasons, that are best done personally, and asking the question, “What tasks can only be accomplished by me?” is an especially important question to consider when we are organizing the tasks and responsibilities of our professional and personal lives.

Last summer my wife, Rachel, found this to-do list that my then eight-year-old son, Harrison, had in his room, and it really made me re-think the types of tasks that are on my to-do lists. Take a look.

Harrison’s To-Do List

In case you can’t read my son’s writing let me go over the list:

  1. Bionicles (this is a toy made by Lego)
  2. Go to Joshua’s (his friend)
  3. Legos (Do you remember when Legos were on your to-do list?)
  4. Nap (I wish!)
  5. Go-Go’s (This is a toy not the 80s band)
  6. Computer (I was glad to see that #6 and #7 were left incomplete.)
  7. T.V.
  8. Play with Dad

Even though Harrison had a hectic summer schedule, which consisted of playing with friends, building Legos, and recreational-sleep he still put “play with Dad” as an important task to be completed.

Honestly, this to-do list got me more than a little choked up. At times I can be more focused about writing down work related tasks than I can be about the things that matter the most, like my family and important relationships. It made me think about the fact that I spend a crazy amount of time being strategic and intentional with my job, and I want to remember to apply that same intentionality to my relationships as well.

I am great about creating and tackling lists that need to happen to lead a productive work day, but I am less intentional about the fact that:

  • I am the only father my children have.
  • I am the only husband that my wife has, and I am called to be her partner, champion, and lover.
  • No one is going to run three miles for my heart or loose fifteen pounds on my behalf.
  • If I don’t spend regular time with God I will have a harder time recognizing his voice in my life. (John 10)

Like many people, I am much more comfortable asking the question what is there “to-do” and a lot less focused on what/who I am called “to-be.”

So, in order to be more intentional with developing habits that remind me that I am not simply a collection of my accomplishments and my to-do’s, I have started thinking about not only my to-do list but my to-be list.

What is a to-be list? It is simply a list of the time and tasks that I need to invest in, so that I can move towards being the person God has called me to be.

Here are a few examples of my “to-be” categories with one task on each list.

In order “to-be” a caring father I will:

  • Find time each week to spend with each of my children, one-on-one, doing something they love.

In order “to-be” a loving husband I will:

  • Make sure I tell Rachel every day how much I love her, and give her specific example of how much I appreciate what she does for our family.

In order “to-be” the Barry God has created me to be I will:

  • Exercise at least three times a week for thirty minutes.

In order “to be” a child of God I will:

  • Spend time listening to God’s voice, every morning, for at least twenty minutes through prayer and the reading of scripture.

You see, I get so focused about meetings and tasks that sometimes I forget to prioritize the things in life that most need to be accomplished, and that can ONLY can be done by me—like my relationships with my friends and family.

Let me encourage you that I am not writing this because I have all the answers figured out, but because I have been challenged by these things more than I would like to admit, and need helpful tools, and people, to keep me accountable. It took the to-do list of my eight-year-old son to remind me what is important in life.

As an exercise, I encourage you to take a few minutes today and write down a few “to-be” categories and add one task to each category.

Question: How could a to-be list help re-frame the list of things you feel compelled to do? You can leave a comment by clicking here.