The Unfinished Lists


At the end of summer, I sat on the living floor with blank printer paper, highlighters, pens, a ruler, and my trusty monthly planner. A new semester of grad school was looming and I knew the only way I was going to be able to accomplish All The Things this fall was to make a plan. So I did, for me and Chad. I charted and organized and listed and forecasted. I made goals and confirmed dates. I plotted the next four months of tasks for us, each on its own sheet of white printer paper, and then I hung them up in the hallway so we would see them everyday. 

It helped, I think. My drive to cross things off the lists kept me motivated. At this point, we’ve accomplished many of the things on our lists, like completing home improvement projects, studying for classes, writing blog posts, and attending family celebrations. There are also things on the list that will stay undone, at least for now. I haven’t finished my book, and I likely won’t for several for months. I’m behind on some video editing projects. Our new bathroom likely won’t be finished by the end of the year as we planned.

But for every thing on the list that is left undone, there are many wonderful things that we did this fall that weren’t part of the original plan. Chad got a new job. We cleared a big swath of our yard of weeds and planted new grass. And most importantly, we spent unplanned time with each other and with family and friends: having a movie night, going to dinner parties and wine meet-ups, driving up to Massachusetts for a weekend, grabbing a bite to eat with girlfriends I haven’t seen in a while … Sometimes we didn’t get something done because that time was better spent. It was better spent being rather than doing, and we needed that too.   

In general, I’m not a doer. I’m not a restless person who needs to be doing an activity all the time. That’s why I make the lists — because I need to be clear with myself what needs to get done and when. I need to see my time scheduled out so that I can focus on each task in its own time. I need to break down big projects into smaller pieces and give each piece its own evening to get done. That’s how I motivate myself. Because naturally, I’m inclined not to do, but to rest and unwind and be. And so I know I’ll always make time for dinner with friends and movie nights and relaxing on the couch with a glass of wine. Those things are natural for me, and they feed my soul. They are the best moments, often unplanned and spontaneous. They are the spaces between the tasks on my to-do list and they are just as important as the actual lists.

So yes, it’s December and I’m behind on the four-month plan I set to paper at the end of summer. But I don’t regret that. I know that there were moments when something or someone more important came up. I know that there were moments when watching Gilmore Girls with my husband was time better spent than crossing something off the list. I know that there were moments where dinners out and campfires in the backyard restored my weary soul. So I’ll take the unfinished items and I’ll move them to the next list and I’ll give them another shot. Or I won’t — because some things should have never been on the list in the first place if they didn’t bring us closer to our goals or to each other.

We got a lot done this fall. And we rested when we needed rest and we spent time with friends when we were inclined, and all of it has been worth the time. 

4 thoughts on “The Unfinished Lists

  1. I’m glad we were able to spend time with you. I know that I am a doer and the relaxing makes me restless. I feel as if I watch far too much TV and just relax, unwinding after a day at work, even if it wasn’t that busy. Sometimes I am too hard on myself because I don’t do more. I’m so much of a “Martha”. I am probably so relaxed at your house because you and Chad are so good at just being, enjoying the time. I feed off your energy and I need that more in my life. I’m glad I have you to help me calm down more and live in the moment rather than always rushing and racing.


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