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A List Maker’s Way of Coping During COVID

All of us are floundering during this pandemic. My priorities have shifted, and I’m conscious of new habits forming. I’ve started searching for ways to make sure that I don’t get through another day without accomplishing something meaningful. There have been too many times over the last six-plus weeks where I’ve taken inventory of my day and I can’t figure out where the time went. In my case, I’m also managing my elderly Dad’s health decline from afar, as well as declining client work that impacts my remote team. It’s all very stress inducing and I’m trying to maintain some control.

I’ve long been a list maker, mostly because it feels so good to complete a task and check things off. It’s rewarding to reflect on how much I’ve accomplished at the end of the day. This habit had slipped in recent weeks and I decided to resurrect and refine the use of the ongoing task list.

The Franklin Covey Method

I was a Franklin Covey devotee from way back. I used to love the colored papers and customizable binders and forms that allowed you to organize and track different aspects of your life. I also loved wandering through their retail stores to stay abreast of the cool tools they had for binders of all sizes. Their ruler/calculator/page divider was a favorite of mine and I experimented with all different sizes of binders. FC also had an education business unit and their trainers would come into corporate offices to help employees become more ‘productive’. While their message and approaches felt a little cultish, it resonated with my goal-oriented personality. I became slightly obsessed with all their products in the days before cell phones helped us do it all. But FC had a philosophy that was revolutionary for me early in my career.

The idea was to mingle the list of personal and professional tasks into one because we have multiple dimensions to our lives. Your task list should reflect all aspects of your life.

Before connectivity made the concept of working from home very normal, there was a hard line separating our personal and professional lives. Things like being a few minutes late due to a personal issue demonstrated a lack of professionalism, strength, self-control. There was little room for fatigue or insecurity or even sickness. Appropriate clothes, makeup, hair was all part of a mechanical corporate performance. The planner was perfect for keeping us all on task and on time. There was a sense that we “planners” had a leg up. The planner helped me manage my clients, my out-of-state wedding, the purchase of our first house, the planning of our first child, my return to work after giving birth, my department during a large company merger.

The Method Falls Apart

In times of great change, my devotion to the wonders of the FC method fell apart. For example, during my maternity leave, I shelved it. Who was I kidding? I was not in control of my own time anymore. Taking care of an infant requires you to acknowledge that you are not in charge of your own time. This is not part of the FC philosophy. For months I struggled with setting goals for the day, only to be thwarted. My husband recalls coming home to find me with #1 baby asleep in a backpack on my back while I maniacally vacuumed the house. I was able to accomplish the goal of cleaning but was exhausted at the end of the day because the moment I stopped moving, the baby would wake and be ready for his next activity. When #1 baby was around thirteen weeks old, I cracked. I was so exhausted; I couldn’t fake it anymore. The planner wasn’t part of that phase of my life.

This pandemic seems similarly chaotic and out of control by a factor of ten. The news is constant, fear inducing and often contradictory. Sleep is not normal or restorative. I am now tracking death and infection rates like I used to track the stock market. Friends’ businesses and economic situations are tenuous. Dad’s nursing home now has COVID positive patients and their daily briefing calls keep families informed about patient status and their contracting staff. Dad’s dementia has affected his ability to answer his phone, so I am reliant upon staff members for reassurance. Thankfully he is not COVID positive, but he hasn’t had visitors since March 6th when outsiders were prevented from coming in for safety reasons. It is a stressful time and I’m not in control of any of this. My FC method of planning isn’t useful here.

Or is it?

The Method Modified

I’ve made my ongoing task list mingling personal and professional tasks as always – especially since I become more forgetful during times of high stress. But I have also incorporated a few new techniques to make this more rewarding:

  • Restorative Tasks – Including things that are restorative like a few minutes of exercise, drinking the right amount of water, or taking a vitamin. This makes restoration a part of my day and is likely to be an easy win since they won’t take more than a few minutes to complete and it feels so good to check them off!
  • Patience – Demonstrating patience with myself when I do not complete as much as I had hoped. Not only am I more forgetful during times of stress, but I am also easily distracted. That combination means I will be a little less ‘productive’ – and that’s OK right now.
  • Not All About Me – Adding things to the list that brings joy to others. I check on a friend or family member that I have not spoken to in a while to make sure they are OK. My husband baked and we shipped biscotti to the healthcare workers taking care of my Dad.

I read this morning that maybe this could already be our new normal. I’m sure we will all get more comfortable in this uncertain space but, in the meantime, we continue to struggle to find new ways of coping.  I’ll continue to share my ideas here but I’d love to hear from others’ too. Please share in the comments section below!

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