The alarm clock just rung and I’m lying in my bed, thinking through all the things I need to do today. I’m happy because it is Sunday and I haven’t got much on my plate so I can take it easy.

First, I have a running date with a friend at 8, then the only next thing will be a barbecue with another couple with kids at 5 p.m. Sounds like a cool easy Sunday to me, right? Ok, so I need to clean the house, which I always do on Sundays. Maybe sort out the paperwork in the cellar office, because I really need to find those passports before our trip next weekend. And there are a few other papers that have disappeared as well… No problem, I’ll take the kids with me. While I’m upstairs, I might just put together that pile of trousers that need repairing, so I have them at hand to do in front of the Tv. Yet, shouldn’t I first finish knitting that bloody sweater I’ve been trying to get done for months now? Ugh, maybe just try to do half of the back tonight, once the back part is done, the rest is a piece of cake. Ah yes, and the chocolate cake. We’re celebrating my friend’s birthday tonight and that certainly calls for the mandatory chocolate cake. But with the icing and all, it always takes so bloody long!

In the meantime, I’m up and having my first coffee. 9 minutes to go before my run. I see the laminating machine my husband brought home for me, because I told him I absolutely wanted to finish getting those work sheets ready for my seminary end of the month. Also, he’ll have to return the machine tomorrow, so no way of putting it off to another day.
Ok, right, no problem, I’ll just do all the “work” related stuff in the morning and the more fun things like knitting and reading the afternoon. No big deal, plenty of time!

The run takes a bit longer than planned and I’m back at 9.45 only. It was a long run and I am more than exhausted, my legs not really feeling like bustling around right away. So I start cleaning up the average mess in the kitchen that appeared out of the blue while I was away. Then the mess from the evening before. Empty the dishwasher. Fold the laundry. Pick up all the toys and weird stuff as well as odd pieces of clothing dispersed throughout the house.

Once I’m done, I think about starting on the cake, as it needs 50 minutes in the oven. No butter there. I take one pack out of the freezer. Ok, postpone the cake then. It is 11.11 now. Nothing really there to show up for yet. And that’s when I start realizing that once again, my plan isn’t going to work and my to do list nowhere of being tackled yet.

Something I have learned after years of frustrating attempts at trying to cross off all the items of the list is that about 99% of the time, you put way too many stuff on it and that you’ll never be able to tackle even half of it. Except if you’ve got some awesome supersonic speed bonus in your DNA or some other trick I don’t know about. So how are you supposed to get anything done at all and stay motivated with all this workload ahead of you?

Simple. My to-do lists have actually become a bit more realistic since I started one small trick: try to allocate an estimated time slot to each task.

Let’s take my example of this Sunday.

  • Long run: between 1h minimum and 2h maximum. Add cool down time and stretching and I might end up with 2,5 hours. Starting at 8, this gets me to 10.30 already.
  • Cleaning the house: usually it takes me 2 hours to get it all done, the bathrooms, vacuum and mop the floor, but only if the house isn’t a complete mess before. Otherwise I’ll need an addition 30 minutes at least. Estimated time after cleaning? 1 p.m. Remember how I wanted to have done all the heavy stuff in the morning so I could lay back afterwards…? Yup, right, absolute illusion.
  • 1 p.m it is then. And I suddenly remember that the kids need feeding… I shove a quick ready lunch in the microwave, and off they go. Only, even if I’m not joining them, it still calls for time: setting the table, serving them,  getting them to finish that last bite they are complaining about, and cleaning the mess they created in minimum time. And I’ve also started on the cake so I can get it baked through while I clean – for the gazillionth time that day – the different tables and corners they have chosen to start yet another craft project. I love creativity and all but… there’s always paper bits everywhere, surfaces are sticky with glue and my scotch tape seems to be doomed to be empty once a week at least. If it doesn’t disappear completely.
  • By the time that stuff is done, I try to lay down for a few minutes, because my legs are killing me since I overdid myself on my run that morning and didn’t get any time to stretch and rest. Of course this is the moment the kids chose to pick a fight, so… no nap for mommy, for a change.
  • 2p.m. I do the icing on the birthday cake, then start on a couple of salads. Numerous people ask me different things that can’t possibly wait until I’m done cutting he veggies, so in between washing my hands, drying them off, fixing some major toy / knot / balloon issue io other, it takes me an hour before I’m done with the damn salad.
  • 3p.m. Ah yes, I haven’t got around to shower yet… might be a good idea though…
  • 3.30 pm : wrap the gifts, get the kids to make a drawing for the birthday guest. Time spent discussing and fretting: 27 minutes. Time spent drawing: 3 minutes
  • 4 pm: get a little decoration up, set the table (because all of a sudden mom’s little helpers have vanished out of view), get the snacks ready and… It’s 4.30 and my guests arrive…

I did get it all done, mostly …. Even the laminating job (with a short hiatus because it broke down and my husband had to put it into pieces and back together again) but it was definitely not an easy Sunday afternoon. And although I’m quite speedy when it comes to getting stuff done, there was no way to fit any siesta or relaxed knitting time into the tight schedule. And if I’d have put a time estimate on each task, I would have seen straight away that my programme would never work out.

If you feel overwhelmed and burdened by your heavy and never-ending to-do lists, try just to follow these two tips:

  1. Make a timeline with estimated time slot for each task
  2. Count in at least one or two buffers : after all, you might need a coffee or at least a pee break
  3. put your top priority tasks on the top, and the smaller items together. For the smaller tasks, you might want to plan to get rid of many of them during one hour. Keep your timeline and be severe about it. You wouldn’t imagine how much time gets lost when you allow your mind to unfocus and wander… Takes an eternity to get it back on track