Honor Checklists Over Todo Lists: Emotional Care for Perfectionists.

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I like lists. My desk has a todo list for each day. My Google calendar has a long term todo list. My library app holds my wishlist and reserves. My Kroger clicklist keeps my home and groceries organized and efficient. I find great satisfaction in crossing things off a todo list, so much so, that sometimes I will write a task down after the project is done just to immediately cross it off. Big goals and big dreams often boil down to many tasks before me. Each checkmark on the list feels like one step forward.

Lately I am finding I need to prioritize my lists differently. While lists usually help me function at a high capacity, in some seasons of life lists can be a nagging, taunting drain on my emotions. Living and teaching during a pandemic means my lists keep growing and I rarely feel the relief of a check mark. Challenges constantly pop up slowing me down and I’m realizing I need more sleep and restorative practices than usual.

As an Instructional Coach I consider myself the caretaker of all the teachers and all the students in the school. In a normal year I can keep up with this, but the pandemic months had me spinning. I saw all the needs of my students, their families, and my colleagues and it was crushing my spirit to not meet all those needs. So the todo list grew and grew each day chipping away at my self worth.

A shift needed to happen for my mental health. I’ve been coaching with this phrase for months, “Do not judge this school year by last years expectations.” While I hoped teachers could hear this I was not listening to my own advice.

In difficult seasons we must adjust the terms by which we judge our success. Walking for an hour on a flat surface vs walking for an hour climbing a mountain will achieve different results. I certainly cannot go as far in terms of distance but I can climb higher than I was before. Maybe that’s what I needed all along, to build endurance in new muscles, to climb higher beyond the treetops and find a more spectacular view.

It was time I took my own advice and started to prioritize what was most important. A todo list is linear and filled with tasks. It cannot begin to represent all that I was actually doing with my time. I had to shift my viewpoint to see quality over quantity, and height over distance.

New Priorities

Asking these questions helped me to determine the value in where I was spending my time.

  1. Did this task move me closer to our most important goals or could it wait until later?
  2. Did I choose people and their feelings over tasks?
  3. Did I show the students they are safe, they are loved, and they have my support?
  4. Did I practice self care so I am strong enough to show up for everyone tomorrow?
  5. Did this action inspire or encourage a colleague to keep being their best self?
  6. Did I show our community how much I value their children?

Honor Checklist

Yes I still start my day with a todo list still, but now I also end my day with an honor checklist. Before I go to sleep, I take deep breaths and outloud list the things I did that make me proud. I take time to honor my work as an educator and as a human being. It also adds to my important bedtime routine to ensure good sleep. This simple practices shifts my priorities and reminds me what is most important. Those honor checklists have looked something like this.

  • Delivered a meal to a sick colleague
  • Went on a search for the perfect book to inspire reluctant readers
  • Learned the names of every full day kindergarten student, protecting my determination to know every child in our school
  • Researched our schools biggest instructional need for this year
  • Committed time to an important personal writing project
  • Walked in the sunshine with my favorite person and slowed down enough to talk to my neighbor

When I finish this list, I start to see more of the moments in life that are most important. It shapes the kind of life that is full of joy and fulfillment. This is who I truly wish to be.

How might your work and your self worth change if you ended your day with a proud list?

If you are en educator and could use some extra encouragement, try reading “Our First Week Back to School: A Journey Through Oz” and “Pandemic Comforts for Teachers: Treat a Teacher, Treat Yourself”.

I will keep posting about life as an educator, books, and healthy recipes for autoimmune folks like me. Follow me on Instagram @GreenGurneys or like our Green Gurneys Facebook page for more education thoughts and good book recommendations.

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