Guest Post: Dreaming Big, One Line at a Time

May 19, 2011

While I’m crazybusy getting ready for my maternity leave, a few fantastic bloggers have agreed to do some guest posts here on the Penelope site. I’m so grateful for the help.

Today, a heartfelt rumination on effective list-making brought to us by Alexis Anne from Clean, Smart, Simple, Style.

I am list obsessed- always have been, probably always will be, it’s just in my nature.

Making a list is a necessary part of my life when I am trying to accomplish something.  But I have to confess: sometimes lists stress me out.  A list with no check marks is the worst kind of visual reminder of everything that you haven’t accomplished.

I used to make lists all of the time, but over the last few months I noticed that I wasn’t making lists very often, and I finally figured out why.  I couldn’t stand making a list in the morning and seeing it without any check marks at the end of the day.  The things that I wanted “To Do” weren’t translating very well into a “To Do List” because I was confusing goals with tasks.

I’ve been dreaming about big things, and setting lofty goals.  But sometimes even after several hours of work towards a goal, I don’t “finish” anything, and I can’t cross anything off of my list. I get frustrated, and in the moment I feel like I will  never reach my goal.

I’ve always been easily frustrated and impatient.  As a kid, if it didn’t come easily to me, I generally wasn’t interested.  But when I started playing the piano at age 5, it came easily enough that I stuck with it.  No one expects perfection from a 5 year old.

As I grew older though, the work became harder.  Songs would take weeks, if not months, to learn.  Luckily, my teacher never expected that I would learn something overnight.  Every morning I would practice at the piano for 30 minutes and slowly work my way through my lesson for the week- piecing together the notes to my new song.  Not surprisingly, I’d often become impatient with my progress and race hastily toward the end, fumbling over notes until the melody was nearly unrecognizable.

Without fail, my Dad’s voice would chime from the other room, “Stop. Go Back. Break it down. Try it again.”  He was a stickler for reminding me to learn it line by line until I got it right.  Perfection never happened over night, but if I worked hard enough, I eventually reached my goal..

Today, as I find myself trying to move full speed ahead to my goals, impatiently wanting them to happen overnight, I find myself remembering the 30 min of practice a day approach, and the Xs that my piano teacher would mark at the end of the line in my sheet music as the visual reminder that I was not required (or allowed) to do it all at once.

I hear my Dad’s voice reminding me:
Stop.  Break it down. Try again. One line at a time.

Even away from the piano, I need to break things down and tackle them one line at a time because when I make a list, I now know that I need to cross things off regularly.

I’m learning that you can’t just write what you want to do.  You have to think about exactly how you’re going to do it, and THAT’S the part that you have to write down. You have to break it down into manageable pieces and devote a tiny increment of time to these task every day.

  • Work on X for 30 min
  • Research Y for 15 minutes
  • Contact 2 people about Z

Move through the list line by line, and then less than an hour later you’ve earned the right to put a check in the boxes next to X, Y, and Z.  No more blank “To Do Lists” taunting you with what you haven’t accomplished, just visual proof of the steps that you’ve taken towards your goal.

It’s good to have goals. It’s great to write them down. But from one Penelope to another…what’s the point of making a list if you can’t check some stuff off today?

In addition to dreaming big and making lists, Alexis Anne shares ideas and inspiration for home organizing and design at her blog Clean, Smart, Simple, Style.

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  2. Sometimes making something pretty is the push you need I just heard from a reader who was excited that...
  3. My To Do List Hates Me or, why your daily task list is defeating you We all make the Daily To Do List. Problem is,...

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Gilda May 20, 2011 at 10:12 am

That’s why I love the GTD system. Instead of having a To Do List with huge projects (that take forever to check off), you have projects broken down into the smaller next action steps. These smaller pieces are doable in smaller chunks of time, show you what you have left to do (to complete the project) and give some nice “reward” in being able to check off each piece as you get to them. Not to mention the Mind Dump (which is basically a mega To Do list) really helps clear my head and surprisingly (as much as I love lists and love checking things off), since I know it’s not a “true” To Do list, doesn’t stress me out when everything is not checked off (and remains unchecked off for sometimes months).

Nicole May 20, 2011 at 2:16 pm

I am a teacher and lately I have decided that The List may have become an enemy. I work a crazy amount of hours and it seems like I put off my whole life until the two and half month vacation I get each summer. I have a list titled “Summer List” and it is really really full.
Busting at the seams.

I hase been trying to decide how stop crammining my life into summer vacation and spread it out a little bit more throughout the year. Breaking things up into smaller chunks may very well be the answer.

Elizabeth in Transit May 20, 2011 at 6:17 pm

I am literally picking up my whole life and moving from one end of the continent to the other. My To Do List was waaaay too huge, until I made separate lists: This End. Other End. In Transit. To Sell. To Take.
This has helped me focus immensely. I still have panic attacks about HOW AM I GOING TO DO ALL THIS?!! but they are more manageable. I think :)

Tyna May 21, 2011 at 7:17 am

Oh that sounds lovely. To be able to work on a project for a whole 30 minutes! I have 4 adorable munchkins running amok here, and my current frustration is not lists, but being able to focus on a thing without being interrupted every two and a half minutes…ah, well. Someday…

Leslie May 24, 2011 at 9:18 am

This is one of those ‘Eureka!’ moment posts for me. You have so perfectly captured in words all the frustration I’ve been experiencing, and offered a solution. Thank you. I so needed to read this today.

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