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Checklists to Organize Your Life, Time, and Sanity

Financial Journey (featured column)
by Karen Kuebler

During the last year I have made one of the simplest discoveries to help keep my sanity, and in the spirit of sharing for the holidays – this will be my gift to you! In fact, you’ll be able to use this idea to make your life easier and your mind clearer during the holiday season.

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I’ve started making checklists for those things I do on a repetitive basis and I can’t believe how much frustration this relieves from certain processes.  Some processes I may only repeat once a year, such as planning and preparing for Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.  Other things occur much more frequently, like traveling and having houseguests.

I first made the simple discovery of creating a checklist when I found myself going crazy packing for trips.  We were going out of town at least once a month or more, and I started to realize how much I dreaded the packing process.  I would procrastinate getting ready for a trip because it was so distasteful and frustrating.

Once I stopped long enough to examine why I was procrastinating and realized that it was because everything about getting ready for the trip felt so out of control.  How could I bring some control to the process?  Make a checklist!  I created the trip preparation and packing checklist and ‘tweaked’ it over time.  It was amazing to feel the panic and frustration of preparing for a trip literally drain from my body.

I included items on the list that I would need to do in advance such as stopping the newspaper, holding the mail, giving necessary information to our neighbor, and other arrangements that needed to be handled. Next I developed the packing portion of the list.  The final part of the list includes anything we need to check as we are leaving such as adjusting the thermostat, turning off the water heater, checking all windows and doors, checking the tires and oil, etc.

It might sound like a daunting task to create the checklist, but it actually goes quickly once you get started.  The amazing result was how I felt afterward.  I no longer had anxiety about preparing for the trip.  Sometimes I could pack the morning we were leaving because I had everything already “thought out” on paper!

Not only did I stop stressing about preparing, but it also made it easier to share the list with my husband.  Everything we needed to do was in black and white and we could share the responsibilities.   Sometimes the matter of delegating feels impossible to do because we can’t organize our thoughts or plans clearly enough to entrust someone else to do the tasks.

Once I discovered the ease of carrying out a repetitive process with an organized checklist, I started making checklists for other processes.  A great place to start in the creating process is to identify those things that you find frustrating, disorganized, overwhelming or stressful.

I realized that I would often become stressed when we were expecting houseguests.  I enjoyed the company, but I would feel overwhelmed even when thinking about guests coming to visit.  I worried about meals, activities, logistics of having everything in order for their arrival, and other things.

I created a list of what I wanted to accomplish before they arrived -- meals I could prepare in advance, food to have on hand so they could get their own breakfasts and lunches, preparation of beds, towels, bathroom necessities, etc.  I put together a basket with shampoo, soap, lotions, q-tips, toothpaste, shower caps, and other items.  I assembled a bucket in the fridge with all of the makings for sandwiches.  When guests arrive I show them where everything is located that they will need in the kitchen, pantry, fridge, bedrooms and bathroom.

We discuss any needs they might have and let them be involved in the planning of activities, meal preparation, coordinating times for conflicting events, etc.  Again, it is all in black and white on a checklist so I won’t worry about forgetting something important.  This has really made the difference of looking forward to having company as opposed to worrying and stressing over it.

I’ve created many checklists to help organize my life and activities.  Since I do a lot of training I have a list of what I need to do in preparing a program and all of the logistics involved to ensure a successful program.  I can share this list with others when I’m enlisting their assistance in the preparations.

I have a monthly list of special days including birthdays and anniversaries. At the beginning of each month, or even a couple of months in advance, I check to see what gifts I need to buy, what cards and presents need to be mailed, and what phone calls need to be made.  I schedule all of these into my daily planner on days that I will have time to fit them in.  I schedule phone calls for special dates at the beginning of each month in my planner. Then I can relax and forget about it until I come to that task on the particular day it is scheduled.

Our home is located on the border of a National Forest.  We face the possibility of forest fires as a natural disaster.  Everybody faces some form of a natural disaster where they live.  I created an Emergency Evacuation Checklist that I keep posted on the door of our coat closet.  We did a practice run to see how quickly we could follow the list.   I know that if we are faced with this situation, I will not be in any frame of mind to think straight.  Hopefully I will never need to use this list, but if I do, we will be able to evacuate within 15 minutes.

I developed an annual home maintenance checklist divided into months.  I look at the schedule a couple of months in advance to see what maintenance people I need to schedule and what specific tasks we need to do.  I can schedule these items into my planner, alleviating the stress or worry of forgetting important pieces.

I have a list of everybody I need to buy gifts for during the year and at holidays, along with special ideas and notes for each person.  I have a list that organizes the holidays – beginning with preparing for Thanksgiving and taking me step by step through the Christmas holidays.  For me, New Year’s is a quiet and relaxing holiday.  That is just the way I like to start the coming year.  But many people have a lot of events and activities planned around the New Year’s holiday.  If you enjoy doing this, it’s a perfect opportunity to create a checklist!

Although the idea of creating the checklists might seem overwhelming at first, like any project you start – take it one step at a time, one list at a time.  When you feel overloaded by an upcoming event, take thirty minutes to create a checklist to help you plan for it.  One list doesn’t take very long to develop.  You can modify the lists over time as you use them.  You won’t think of every detail the first time you create a list.

Start now by creating a list of what you need to do to prepare for the holidays. Computers have many advantages – and if you are reading this article, you must have a computer!  You can brainstorm a list and then move things around to get them in the proper order afterward.  Make a special binder to house your checklists.

You will find this simple method of organizing can bring a new level of order and sanity to your life that will help you to create the balance you are craving. When life is more balanced, everything just works better.  You can stop worrying and start enjoying life more.  What better gift can I give you for the holidays?  I wish you all the best for the coming Holiday Season!

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Copyright © 2002 by Karen Kuebler. All rights reserved.