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A friend of mine recently shared her journey “from scattered to scheduled” with me. She said, “I’ve struggled for years to try to conquer my inability to live a scheduled life. I saw people with their fancy planners and knew I needed to make a change, so I started a planner too. Now the problem is I either fail at living according to my schedule or I stress myself and my family out trying to get everything on the schedule done. Is there any hope for me at all? I’m starting to think I wasn’t meant to live according to an exact schedule.”

Think of a person you admire. Are they the kind of person who seems to have all their priorities in order? Do they seem to accomplish a lot daily? Are they happy, engaged and optimistic as they accomplish all their scheduled tasks? How do they do it? Are they really scheduled or do they seem to have all the time in the world? Must a person use fancy planners to be highly scheduled daily to be effective? Or can over-planning instead become another problem to overcome? What can a scheduled or unscheduled person do to be happy and effective daily, as well as feel balanced?

What can we do to get more things done and still have that relaxed, living feeling? Is it even possible to have both? Yes, it is. In fact, happy productive living isn’t as difficult as some people think.

3 Skills Adults Need to Go from Scattered and Over-Scheduled to Stress-Free

1. Learn how to live a more balanced life.

True balance only comes to a person who’s willing to have moments of imbalance. Years ago, a man I look up to for his wisdom, leadership, capacity and priorities said there’s no way for a leader to continually stay in balance. He explained there are always moments of imbalance. Instead of stressing over them, he said a true leader knows how to accept imbalance without stress and how to move back into balance when it’s time.

This wise man likened the way he lives his life to a plate spinner in a circus act. He gets all the plates spinning and then watches them closely. When a plate slows down and needs his attention, he spins it. It’s not necessary to spin all the plates at the same time; only the necessary plate at the specific time. Since each plate was started in its own time, the spinning only needs to happen at times specific to each plate. This image immediately resonated with me. That’s what I had been trying to do effectively in my life: spin the plates. I noticed my stress and frustration came only when I was spinning plates that didn’t need spinning when I should have been spinning another plate.

In my life, I’ve noticed that some plates do need more frequent spinning. For instance, the make-food plate must be spun three times a day, and the stop-and-talk-to or teach-the-children plate must be spun dozens of times daily.

A wise person knows time is so concrete that it can be depended upon for support. There are 24 hours in a day. The hours will feel short when life is in a moment of imbalance and longer during times of balance. To live more stress-free, a person needs to remember there is always time to get the list done. It may not all happen by 10 a.m., but there is time. There’s always time. “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven… a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted…” (Ecclesiastes 3)

The question is can we really believe those words from scripture in our daily living? Do we pressure ourselves needlessly or do we take the necessary time at the appropriate time and rely on the fact that there’s always more time to come? Wise and happy people know there is no stress or task that must rob a moment of its purpose.

There is a difference between doing what needs to be done and doing everything, and the person who knows how to see what needs to be done most is often the most productive in the end.

This doesn’t mean living in panic, chaos or stress. It doesn’t even mean constantly living in an urgent mindset. It means acknowledging what or who needs your attention next. That’s all.

Obviously a person also can do too much. We should eliminate plates that don’t need our attention or are needlessly robbing us of the time needed to spin the most important plates. Maybe the question isn’t how much should be on our plate but how many plates we should actually have. Depending on how well we have mastered the art of spinning plates will likely determine how many plates we can have. Practicing at prioritizing and taking deliberate action creates increased capacity.

2. Learn how to live each moment with purpose and pleasure.

Now that we’re able to see what needs our attention — and that we’ll feel slightly imbalanced at times throughout life — we’re freer to confidently connect to each moment and the people in that moment.

Years ago, I witnessed a powerful speaker right before she was about to take the stage at an event. I noticed a small child playing by herself with some toys. Instead of the speaker going over her notes and trying to detach from everyone around her so that her material would be fresh in her brain, this amazing woman walked over to the child, introduced herself, and asked the child questions about what she was playing and how her day had been. The child loved the attention and talked openly with the speaker, not even knowing who she was. I also observed that the speaker was fulfilled by this 10-minute conversation with the child. She conveyed a tone of completeness. She had a few minutes before she would be called in to speak and instead of standing there she made that one moment really count.

Creating a connection to each minute of the day and with the people around us results in a confident tone and makes spreading goodness and positively impacting others more natural and possible.

No matter what’s happening, we can either choose to be fully present or to be somewhere else. Choosing the latter makes us feel and behave like we’re really nowhere.

3. Learn how to use the to-do list correctly.

The to-do list can be used to mark successes and failures, or it can be used to point the direction for the leader.

Things take as long as they’re going to take. No matter how quickly I want to weed the yard, the weeds still must be handled one by one. The more weeds, the more time. That’s just how it is.

I love making a to-do list, but I’m not so attached to it that I can’t deviate from it to take care of another plate that needs spinning. We must be adaptable as needs change. I’m also not so emotionally attached to it that I measure my worth daily by adding up the check marks. To-do lists move me forward. They keep me planning the next day and waking up on time. The list reminds me to look at certain plates and helps me know what to think about as I do mundane tasks that must be done at that time. In short, my to-do list inspires me. I don’t ever expect to be done entirely with my list. I add to it all the time. The point of my list is to inspire me, not to overwhelm me.

Don’t trap your happiness by thinking the whole day fell apart because you only completed two things on the list. Instead, allow yourself to rejoice in the two things you accomplished and the steady progress you’re making daily.

If you must see daily check marks for happiness, then put the right things on your list that you know you’ll actually do, such as feed the baby, do the dishes, or read a story or sing a bedtime song to a child. Those are likely the most important things on the list anyway since they’re things only you can do. Plus, they lead to a deep and lasting connection with someone.

Each person must acknowledge where their power comes from. For me, it’s from connecting to God and the people around me — especially my family. When I live my role as a wife and mother, I’m closer to God as well. Since living my nurturing role is where my power comes from, whenever possible I make sure to prioritize all things related to that role over other plates that might also need spinning. Again, there are short moments of imbalance from time to time. I just don’t allow those rare short moments to be the norm.

It’s also completely acceptable to add things to your list at the end of the day just to check off. Some days we spin plates we didn’t know were going to fall when we made the list. That’s okay. Just put them on the list after the fact. If the list is your list, then you should be able to add or delete anything from the list at any time.

Being scheduled really means knowing how to put first things first and having faith that all those other things will also be first in their due time.

It’s possible to have a to-do list, be a busy person, and love every minute of it. We simply must remember what balance really looks like — instead of the myth of what some suggest it should look like. If we remember how to live each moment we have with a tone of gladness and connection to others around us, and how to use our to-do lists more effectively, then we’ll be stress free and more effective in all our good pursuits.

Click here to learn more about creating a self-governed home environment and happy family relationships.