What Can I NOT Do Today? A Guest Post by Shawna

What Can I NOT Do Today?
by Shawna of Not The Former Things

I have always, always been a planner person.

This has been true since a very young age – I remember when I was four years old, I wanted my mom’s written-in calendar so much, I would’ve preferred it to any toy. I begged to go to the office supply section at every grocery store, just to stare longingly at the pens and pads of paper. When I was in college, I spent way too much of my scholarship fund in the bookstore. Even today, when a friend pulls out her planner, I have to take a look. It’s been a part of me as long as I can remember.

Throughout my life, I have planned away, making one to-do list after another.

Then, I became a momma.

Then, I became a stay at home momma.

Then, I became a stay at home, homeschooling momma, to exceptional children with special needs.

Then, I became a very tired, overwhelmed, have no idea what to do next momma.

And then, suddenly, the to-do list and planner didn’t quite do the trick anymore. In fact, they mocked me. Instead of being the cherished friends I had grown to love, these tools became yet another symbol of my failure as a mom.

At first, I thought it was the type of planner. (I wish I was joking…) I seriously thought maybe I just needed a different type of planner – one more suited for a mom at home instead of a mom at work. Turns out it wasn’t having the wrong planner.

Then, I thought maybe I just needed to use it differently. I spent an afternoon recreating page after page to more accurately reflect my life – changing travel pages to meal plans, and lists of important numbers to therapist contact info. Turns out it wasn’t the way I was using the planner.

It wasn’t until our lives became so completely complicated with sleepless nights, violent, damaging meltdowns, and what felt like emotional trauma all over the place, that I finally realized – no amount of planning would change our circumstances

Somewhere, in that mess, I began to understand that there would be much, much more on the to-do list, but most of the list would be things I had never had to accomplish before. Things likemake it home safely after a car ride 15 minutes or more, or just make sure only things in this room are broken went straight to the top of the list.

At first I fought it. I was sure if I just tried harder, woke up earlier, stayed up later, and worked faster, I could accomplish every single thing on my list. What’s worse,  I thought my children should be able to keep up as well.

I am here to say, it was just not possible. It brought me to my knees (spiritually and figuratively).

I just could not keep up.

So, slowly but surely, I let go.

I asked my husband what was most important to him – turns out he could’ve cared less about 75% of the things I was freaking out over every day. Then, I asked the boys what they wanted. Playing with them (big sigh and mommy conviction followed) and feeding them were the top requests. In fact, they were the only requests (now that I think about it, my husband’s requests were not that dissimilar…). Suddenly, my list was getting a lot smaller.


A year later, I am surprised at how comfortable I have become with all of this. So much so that I worry sometimes that we are too relaxed. (I actually have a good friend who has promised to keep me accountable. If I completely lose it and start sliding down the slippery slope of sluggard-dom and total filth, she is the one nominated to put me in check!)

Now, instead of feeling like a failure when I see my huge to-do list, I am trying to mentally start checking things off my not-to do list each morning.

Silly? Yes.

But I find there is so much more room for grace and freedom, when I am not holding myself to my own unrealistic standard. There is so much grace in saying, “Oh well. A perfectly scrubbed kitchen floor is just not the season we are in.”

There is so much joy in living life with my family, my eyes and heart focused on them, rather than all the things that need to be done around them.

So, what are you NOT going to do today?


This essay was originally published at Not The Former Things.


Shawna is a wife to a wacky, voice actor husband, and a momma to two uniquely challenged little boys. She finds herself increasingly required to live beyond the limits of her crazy self, and serve a wonderfully complex family – where High Functioining Autism and Learning Disabilities are schooling her every single day. She blogs about the messy and the painful, the sweet and the laughable, and how Jesus is in the midst of it all at Not The Former Things. You can also find her on Facebook

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13 responses to “What Can I NOT Do Today? A Guest Post by Shawna”

  1. You know the saying “mo’ money, mo’ problems?” Well, I am pleased and terrified to tell you, I have none of those problems. I don’t have to worry about where to invest, I don’t worry if I am getting the best interest rate on my savings and I don’t worry about whether my accountant is swindling me. Isn’t that grand? I know that isn’t exactly what you were asking but it is a list of things I won’t do.

  2. In the 90s, I carried a Franklin Planner with me everywhere I went. It was for appointments only, which I had a lot of due to having kids with autism. But my lists laughed at me. Wonder if I have any lying around. Probably, since I have paperwork from the 90s.

  3. Oh, mama, I have been there exactly.

    I, too, thought it was the wrong planner. I thought, oh, they won’t have the one I need in the store– so I’ll look online for printables! And then I thought maybe I should make my own templates…and then kablooie!

    That said, I have a problem with your NOT to do list. How do you know when you get to check off those line items?! Because this is not going to work for me if I can’t feel like I’m making progress during the day!

    I’m smiling, but also, I’m very serious.

    The best system I’ve come up with is still a to do list, but it has things like “smell three-year-old’s hair while he’s on my lap reading a book” on it and all the cleaning and whatnot goes in the extra credit section (which works like this: if I do anything in the extra credit section, I am the Supreme Mistress of All Homely Arts and all denizens of my realm must pay tribute).

  4. I went from a working wife (we were married for five years pre-children) to a homeschooling stay-at-home mom of three in rural Alaska. It has been a huge transition, and I absolutely LOVE your idea of a “Not To Do” list. Mainly, not yelling.
    Thanks for the inspiration!

  5. This is so awesome. Having just recently quit my job, I had oh-so-many PLANS for what I would ACCOMPLISH. EACH AND EVERY DAY. And now, instead of beating myself up because I STILL haven’t uncluttered the attic and made it into an office for my husband, I will re-read this post and pat myself on the back because my son made it to school, in clean clothes, with his lunch. It’s the little things. Dinner’s a plus. Thanks for such a grace-filled post.

    • Ha! I thought the same thing too, when I started staying home. I was sure I was going to be so all over getting all the things done. Like, in a week. And then reality hit. Good for you for figuring it out sooner rather than later. And yes, dinner is always a plus!

  6. Thank you. I am becoming aware of how much I’m driven by and brought down by “what’s not getting done.” This has been true for a long time, but I feel like I’m on the edge of actually living with a different perspective/measuring stick. This post helped me. Keep saying it.

  7. Well. I really like your openness and the restfulness of reading this post. I WISH I could not hear the voices in my head. I don’t really do planners well. But the “to dos” are in my head all the time.

    • Oh my goodness, Terri – I completely understand. There are times when the “you need to do this” voices are so loud, and then there is always the inevitable “you mean you haven’t done that yet?” voice. Followed by the “you are totally messing up your kids and your marriage and your home voice”. Ugh.
      This is actually one of the reasons I tried to be intentional about saying what I was just not going to do. When I hear that voice, I try to say back to it “That is just not going to happen right now.” I find it makes me a little less overwhelmed.
      Either that or I just give up for the day, eat ice cream and tell my husband to bring home a bottle of wine. That shuts up the voices too. 🙂

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