Does Your To Do List Define Your Life?

This one’s from Mama PoP…

Z on his leash for his nightly walk.

Z on his leash for his nightly walk.

I was reflecting on Mrs PoP’s recent Happy Friday post where she discussed Time Perspective Therapy. Readers posted their scores on two online Time Perspective exams that they took to gain insight into how they stack up to scores for a “best” time perspective (and therefore elevated happiness?).

As reported by Mrs. PoP, Zimbardo says that the ideal time perspective consists of “a blend of a high level of past-positive, a moderately high level of future orientation and a moderate level of selected present hedonism. In other words, you like your past, work for the future—but not so hard that you become a workaholic—and choose when to seek pleasure in the present.”

Reading everyone’s scores and individual analysis was interesting, and it seemed as though many people were not too surprised by their scores. It struck me that one commonality that many readers of Planting shared on this exercise is that as a group we tend to score somewhat low on the Present Hedonism subscale. Me, too. Now, you may think this is not important, but my relatively low score in this area hit a little too close to home.


Am I Prioritizing Fun?

The dictionary defines hedonism as the pursuit of pleasure, but I like to think of it more loosely as having fun. To be specific, I was thinking about how I could increase my “present hedonism” score with everyday pleasures. There should be loads of ways to have fun without breaking the bank or the budget. It shouldn’t require “retail therapy” or expensive five course dinners.

I remember about a year ago being so wrapped up in my work that I couldn’t remember when I had had any “fun.” In fact, I actually tried to define “fun” and had a hard time coming up with ideas. It seemed that either I never actually got to have fun or that I wasn’t recognizing it when it happened! I was ruled by a To Do list that never got all the way to done.

My daily list of tasks included many projects that were time intensive and could never get done in one day. I mixed work responsibilities with home-related tasks and bounced all over the place trying to get things crossed off before bedtime. When the page got too messy, I re-copied all of the pending projects to another page and added more jobs so there were always 15 items waiting for my attention. Sometimes I prioritized the projects and sometimes I just did the ones that were quickest so I could earn a fast reward of crossing something off.

But here’s the thing: If a life is made up of the activities of our days and if each day’s activities are determined by the “To Do” list, then that life is largely determined by THE LIST! I am sure someone famous has discussed this point better than I can, but I will tell you that I had an “Ah-ha” moment when I really looked at my results from that Time Perspective Inventory.


What Did I Do?

My solution was to redesign my “To Do” list. I kept it simple and I’ve been testing it out for about a week. So far, at the end of each day I have had the opportunity to see exactly what I have accomplished in three areas of my life: Work, Home, and Fun (are you getting the hedonistic connection here?). My simple form has only 5 rows so I could still list 15 projects if I wanted to do that many in a day.

Work Home Fun
1 1 1
2 2 2
3 3 3
4 4 4
5 5 5

I still need to work on listing an appropriate number of tasks, and I am breaking the bigger projects into what can reasonably get done in one day. Since I do my professor-work every day (including holidays, vacations, and weekends), I need to be able to balance it with tasks that I do that I don’t get paid to do such as laundry and house management. Thus, the three categories are needed for every day, not just the traditional work days. Actually writing down what I want to do each day for fun helps me to look forward to the specific activity as well as acknowledge each evening that I did do something enjoyable along with the work that I accomplished.


What Does My Fun Look Like?

So far, my fun has consisted of walking in a local park with my friend, reading a novel, watching a movie using my new Roku, teaching my friend how to upload her CDs to her computer and iPod, and attending a craft fair. A daily activity at 5:00 PM is walking my cat on his leash, but I never really thought about that as fun.

It turns out that on some days, Z is the reason I get outside to enjoy our beautiful weather, and that is definitely fun. With the use of my new and improved “To Do” list, I am more deliberate about “choos[ing] when to seek pleasure in the present.”


Are there big benefits happiness-wise to deliberately choosing fun? I think so. For those of us who might tend to be workaholics, it may be a real sanity-saver. It doesn’t feel contrived and I recommend it to you. I have already noticed that a shorter and more focused list correlates with feeling less stress!


What does your “To Do” list look like? How do you manage to fit in fun and what is fun? More importantly, how is your list influencing your life? Does a “To Do” list have a huge impact on how you spend your time and therefore your life?

49 comments to Does Your To Do List Define Your Life?

  • I like your logic here, I think fun definitely needs to be a priority at times, and I’m finding out with kids that it needs to be a priority quite often!
    FI Pilgrim recently posted..Beach Link Day 9/7 – A Few Faves From This WeekMy Profile

    • Mama PoP

      I think you’ve identified one of the great benefits of having kids, pets, and friends or family members who pull you into having fun even if you haven’t prioritized it for yourself at that moment. Z (the cat) cries piteously beginning at 5:00 PM until I stop working at my desk and take him for a walk. I have a friend who texts me almost every day with the word “walk” and we meet after dinner at a local park to walk for 45 minutes. So, even if I might not make time myself for fun, I still get to do fun things because of the prompting of others.

  • Thomas | Your Daily Finance

    I like having my lists but I make sure the family is on top of that list! Sometimes I let things get in the way of doing the needed fun things in life. But thankfully I have a phenomenal wifey that keeps me grounded and focus. I love my family/friends and spending time with them and having fun is a priority. One of the reasons I work so hard it to make sure I have more time and money to do a lot of the things I want to do. My mom always says though that their is no time like the present and you are not promised tomorrow.
    Thomas | Your Daily Finance recently posted..Using a Scalable Business Model with Niche Websites to Go After Real IncomeMy Profile

    • Mama PoP

      Your wife and mom are wise women and it is great to have them help you to keep your focus amid your work responsibilities.

  • It’s funny how the definition of “fun” changes as you get older. We used to love going out to bars and night clubs when we were younger. It was “fun!” Now, I dread anything like that. I hate sitting in umcomfortable chairs and paying $5 for a drink.

    Now that we have kids, our “fun” is spending time with them- on vacation, at the park, etc. We also love to wind down and watch a TV show after they go to bed.
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted..Adventures in House HuntingMy Profile

    • Mama PoP

      Oh, what a great point, Holly! You are so right – maybe that is why I was having trouble figuring out what fun is for me now. The definition of fun has certainly changed over the years, but the most fun for us is still spending time with our kids. That kind of fun is harder to manage once the children are grown and scattered geographically.

  • My to do list is always pretty long. I’ve kind of structured my week around it. But, weekends are for me! I don’t work on much on these two, lovely days! Thanks for the very interesting question!
    Joshua ( recently posted..How To Make A Budget Spreadsheet That Makes Budgeting Fun!My Profile

    • Mama PoP

      Joshua, I envy you and your ability to protect the weekend from your work. That is a goal for me, but I doubt if I will accomplish it because of the nature of my job. On the flip side, I have a lot of flexibility in my job which means that I can be writing in the blog just now instead of “working”. I just have to work later tonight instead.

      When your list is really long, do you think that has an impact of how much stress or pressure you experience?

  • I am not a big fan of lists because I know they can change over time. I like to have goals set in my mind and work from there. I find this is much less stressful.
    Debt and the Girl recently posted..20 Truths You Learn in your 20′sMy Profile

    • Mama PoP

      Do you keep all of the things you need to do in a day in your head? I agree that lists can “create” stress, but I also find them a source of satisfaction at the end of the day when I see that I didn’t fritter away the day even if it felt like it. When I am really stressed, I actually don’t make lists at all because I am simply on survival mode to get through the day.

  • Great piece.

    We discussed this (my coach and I) this morning! My issue, as defined in Covey terms, is that I have WAY too many Quadrant 1 issues on my plate (urgent and important). I’m looking to delegate many of those so that I can focus on important tasks (quadrant 2….not urgent but important).

    As for fun, after suffering burnout several times, I realized that this is a marathon, not a sprint, so I schedule fun into my calendar. If I don’t, I’m stuck at my keyboard all day, which is fun in the moment but has some severe downsides when burnout hits.
    Joe @ Stacking Benjamins recently posted..Top 5 Money Moves to Make Right Now – Stacking Benjamins #20My Profile

    • Mama PoP

      Hi Joe,

      It’s interesting that you noted that the “fun in the moment” of spending time at your keyboard has some severe downsides. I also have fun in the moment when working at the keyboard, but the major downside for me is when I find that I’ve let friendships sort of languish due to non-nourishment. I mostly do okay keeping up with the family, but I tend to sink so far into my work that I don’t make enough time for having fun with friends. Then when I realize that I need to take some time out and relax, the friends may be pretty busy with other newer friends and activities. Deliberately scheduling fun seems to be important!

  • I agree that my To Do List has changed as my life has progressed. I do agree with Holly as when i was younger I look forward to going out and drinking every weekend, now my to do is a quiet night at home with the wife.

  • Debbie M

    I have three lists. One I call a “kaper chart,” from scouting days. It has lists of things I should do daily and weekly that I don’t really want to do. The weekly things are all chores. The daily things are: eating produce, drinking enough water, keeping up with dishes and laundry, physical therapy to finish healing my heel and shoulder, brushing/flossing, “other productive” (to encourage myself to do one other productive thing), and “have fun.” Lately, most of my fun has been hanging with friends, reading, watching TV, and watching movies. I’m about to start painting the robot figures that came with my (old edition) Robo Rally game and trying to learn another song on the guitar.

    Other things I do for fun that don’t go on the list are things like cooking foods I love to eat (even if I sneak extra nutrition into them), going for walks, reading blogs like this, listening to music, dancing to music, singing along to music, googling things I’m wondering about, looking at pictures and other stuff I like, and cuddling and kissing (it’s good to make up excuses for kissing like “hi honey, I’m home,” “hi honey, you’re home,” blocking a doorway and insisting on a toll, passing by him on my way somewhere, etc.). I do think a lot of adults forget how to have fun except for maybe their one all-encompassing hobby and, if they have kids, whatever their kids get them into. Sad.

    Another list I keep is a list of things to do this year. It has things like check I-bond rates in May and November, try a new exercise video (from the library), finish my Halloween costume, and re-organize (and de-clutter) something. It has both easy things and outrageous things. And they are all organized by category:

    * physical (check-ups/prevention, cures/treatments, nutrition, well-rounded exercise, endurance/calorie-burning exercise, strength/speed-building exercise, balance/coordination/flexibility/mobility exercise)

    * intellectual (learning, problem-solving, other)

    * creative (build or make stuff, design/organize/present stuff, learn creative skills, do research)

    * social

    * spiritual (share stuff/skills, use power for good, reduce or repair damage, repay)

    * domestic (aesthetics, organization, maintenance, environment/energy saving, renovation, skills, research)

    * career (job skills, job hunting, accelerate/ensure retirement)

    * financial (keep better records, save money, increase income, invest, prevention/insurance, research)

    * other general happiness tactics (organizational, priorities)

    Some categories are bigger than others, some are empty. But if I have almost nothing checked off in one of the big areas, that informs me of imbalance in my life.

    This used to be a list of 100 things; at the end of the year I would keep all the stuff I hadn’t finished (about 2/3 of it) and brainstorm more things to add. Now I just start with a few things I might really do (and it’s in html format, so I leave my other good ideas that I don’t want on the list in the comments so that I don’t lose them). And then I add more as the year progresses with the expectation that there will be 100 items by the end of the year. It got depressing transferring things I “should” have done year after year after year! But not depressing enough to actually make me do it.

    The third list is a more normal to-do list, but it’s monthly. It’s a lot like a daily list, but I don’t actually have to make a new list every day and I don’t have to decide exactly which ones I’ll do today but just go with the flow. I just keep adding things I want to do in the next few days until the end of the month when the paper is basically filled up. Right now it has things on it like renew auto registration, put out roach traps, start some seeds, and call someone about fixing the class registration screw-up. It all started when I made a list of next-steps when I was playing a video game and I used to look at it to do my planning and plotting and strategizing while waiting for the bus. When that game got old, I decided I should do the same thing but for my own life. I mostly look at this list when I find myself with some free time and want to make sure not to forget my good ideas of things to do. I do not worry about the ratio of stuff for others (aka job duties), productive stuff for me, and fun stuff for me. I do not worry about exactly when to get things done except for things that should be done for get-togethers and things that should be done at the same time as I’m doing other things in the area. But I’m trying to include only things that I think I will actually do in the very near future so the long-time unchecked things don’t stress me.

    Sadly, my to-do lists do not have as much impact on my life as they should! I still like my life fine, though.

    • Mama PoP

      Debbie, you seem to be super-organized and it’s great that you can work it so the not-done-yet things don’t stress you. Do you also have a life-list? The kind of goals that you want to accomplish in your life?

      • Debbie M

        Ha, my lists are super organized. Me–not so much! But then I try really hard not to have too much to do. I don’t have my own business or a job that takes more than 40 hours per week and I don’t even have dependents except for some plants.

        No, I don’t have a life list. I have tried making one though, and either I just can’t think that long term or I’ve already done most of the things I know I want to do.

        I think the closest is that I’ve learned that in order to be happy, I need to be doing intellectual things, social things, physical things, creative things, and spiritual things (in general) – plus of course keeping up with house stuff and keeping money coming in. So that’s the underlying basis of my annual lists.

        As for specific (big) things, there are a few cool-sounding places I’d like to visit, like the Smithsonion–I mean Washington DC. And when I retire I plan to learn Spanish and ASL tutor some kids in math, and write a nonfiction book.

        But I’ve already gotten to visit lots of cool places. And I’ve done other cool (to me) things like run a 10K in under an hour, make a quilt, teach someone to read, try writing a novel, and live through a weekend with only the things I’ve brought with me plus a water source. Mostly I just keep my eyes and ears open for opportunities and try to make sure I have the time and money available to be able to take advantage of these when they come up.

  • That’s an important idea about breaking projects down. I got a new bed on Saturday and it honestly took most of Saturday evening to put it together as I was by myself and had to correct my mistakes.

    I also think that’s so important to have fun activities as well. I remember reading another blogger using a cell phone game as a sort of reward for getting something done. Even something as small as that can be a fun reward or part of a to-do list if it’s something you enjoy.
    Tara @ Streets Ahead Living recently posted..September goals, a bit delayedMy Profile

    • Mama PoP

      Hi Tara,
      I know someone who uses “Tapfish” on her phone when she gets stressed and she says it is so relaxing. I think to each his/her own – it’s just sometimes a challenge to find what works best!

  • “Fun” sure does evolve as I get older. “Fun” use to typically involve spending money but not these days. Mountain bike rides with my son, and playing soccer with my daughter are now 2 of my favorite activities, both completely free. I don’t think there is anything wrong with prioritizing “fun” because as busy as I am if I don’t make time for it my kids lose out and I lose out.
    Kyle | recently posted..Frugal Hack #12: How to Buy Discounted Gift CardsMy Profile

  • That’s a pretty awesome system, there. I agree with your insight that a to-do list can sneakily end up running a life, if one isn’t careful.
    Done by Forty recently posted..Budget Porn, Sexy September EditionMy Profile

  • Great post! I think I have a decent balance of getting work/exercise/relaxation in every day, but what I do feel like I’m missing sometimes is that super fun thing. For instance this weekend I did play volleyball, which is indeed super fun, but I came home and spent a lot of time by myself and watching TV or reading blogs, etc. Not that it’s “work” but I really, really wanted to maybe go out to eat or to a movie, but my budget is VERY tight this month, so sometimes I do feel off-balance there a bit and wish I could go a little crazy there. Especially when it comes to eating out and traveling…something I just have not allowed myself much of in awhile.
    Budget and the Beach recently posted..Why I stopped looking for a full time jobMy Profile

    • Mama PoP

      Dear Budget,
      I hear you about the movie or traveling, two of my favorite things. Maybe you could think about budgeting in a matinee, though. They are often half the price and it could feel like a real treat to look forward to. I find eating out to be more difficult budget-wise because with a matinee, I know how much I will spend. Not so with eating out!

      • Debbie M

        A lot of restaurants have their menus online now, and most online menus have prices. So although you don’t know if the service will be such that you won’t give your maximum tip, you can still calculate a high end. (Unless you’re susceptible to specials!)

        And if you’re going with someone who likes some of the same things you do, you might be able to share something–servings are quite large at some places. Sadly, appetizers usually cost as much as main dishes these days, but sometimes you can get just a side salad, just a cup of soup, or just a dessert for a lot less. It (probably) won’t fill you up, but you still get the benefit of their ambiance and getting out of the house.

        • Mama PoP

          Hi Debbie,
          You’re so right about the online menus and the possibilities of sharing. One snag that I struggle with is Papa PoP’s logic that since you are at a restaurant and you will be spending a minimum of “X” you should go ahead and get what you really want, not the cheapest thing on the menu. After all, there is often only a few dollars difference between the pasta (that I am not keen on but is cheap) and the steak that would be delicious. It’s a slippery slope when you look at it that way. Plus, I love dessert!

          My defense is to not go out very often and to choose cheaper restaurants. That way, when Papa PoP orders off the top of the menu, it’s not so bad if I follow him.

  • I feel the same way about my to do list at work. I more often choose the things that are quick over the things that are necessary. I have a good separation between work and fun, but being a professor sounds like it would blur that line.
    Cash Rebel recently posted..August 2013 Goals UpdateMy Profile

    • Mama PoP

      Yes, I am often envious of my secretary who works like crazy while she is at the office but then she leaves it all there. I have tried that system but since I live an hour away from my office and I am only required to actually have office hours three days a week, I find that working at home is usually more productive. You can see why I have “work creep”!

  • I think most people have tons of lists and think they will get around to fun when the list is done. The list is never done, though. I like the idea of making a to do list that includes fun. I do try to do something with the family every weekend, and we had a great summer with some great trips and hikes. A few years ago, I would have never taken that much time off work. I never knew you could walk a cat. Thanks for sharing. I have a great visual of that!
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted..Do I Need Vision Insurance?My Profile

    • Mama PoP

      You’re right, Kim! My to-do list is never done, so now by including fun as a category I feel happier in looking forward to the fun I have planned and also not guilty when I take the time to do it.

      Yes, Z loves to walk outside. When he was first learning to walk on a leash, it was a bit like walking outside with a toddler – I just followed him where ever he wanted to go. Now he will strut along beside me with his tail straight up in the air like a flag!

  • I’ve always kept a professional and personal to do list and see these as being essential in getting tasks completed within their deadlines. Usually, I then do the “fun” after.

    However, I’ve never really thought about adding the “fun” to the list. I’m going to try this out in the next few weeks. Thanks for the tip MamaPop. recently posted..Attitude to money – the three second testMy Profile

  • I don’t really write list anymore because I never stick to them. And fun and I havent seen each other in weeks which is bad for a single girl in her early 20s.

    • Mama PoP

      Maybe you should think about what can qualify as fun for you? You sound as though you are ultra busy and in survival mode when making lists becomes less important than simply doing the tasks that confront you each day.

  • I was just looking at my to-do list and sighing because there was so much to do on it. Weirdly, it’s all aimed at getting things out of the way so I can have fun, but the list just keeps getting longer. I may need to re-set my approach.
    Pretired Nick recently posted..How (not) to sell a fourplex – Part II: Angry Bird BoogalooMy Profile

    • Mama PoP

      I can only say that the reset has helped me. I have fewer things on the list and the whole affair just feels simpler and somehow liberating and fun. Give it a try or create your own fix and let us know how it works for you.

  • Thanks for the reminder to schedule fun. Like the above poster, I will make a never ending list of things to do in order to schedule fun. I find myself often working and focusing on the future rather than living for today. And, even when I schedule fun, my mind is on what I have to do later. I have to constantly be mindful to push the garbage out of my head when I have a lot going on in my life, like this month. I’m a work in progress but getting better every day! Next month I will be better, I know it!
    Karla Twomey recently posted..Teaching kids about money! BONUS: 5 awesome resources for you and your kids!My Profile

    • Mama PoP

      Hi Karla,
      I sometimes wonder if the pioneers made to-do lists. A list for a pioneer could have been something like “Don’t get killed or sick today.” I wonder if in today’s society we are more stressed by lots of smaller things that we take on to do since we don’t need to focus so much energy on not getting killed or sick?

  • This is a really great philosophy. I haven’t thought about scheduling fun in exactly this way but I do make a conscious effort to spend time each day where I’m 100% focused on interacting with my family. Usually this is after I get home from work when I get to play with my wife and son before he goes to bed. Having this dedicated time is a nice way to break things up.
    Matt Becker recently posted..Buying a Car: Should You Pay Cash or Get a Loan?My Profile

  • I don’t have a to do lists because I have my daily routine. Doing my household chores, exercise for 30 minutes, working, preparing for the meals and preparing my daughter for school. During weekends we usually go out with my family.
    Clarisse @ Make Money Your Way recently posted..Top 4 Authorities in the Financial WorldMy Profile

    • Mama PoP

      Clarisse, that sounds great. Papa PoP has daily routines that work for him, but he also has a “To Do” list that he actually finishes each day. I am always amazed at how accurately he can plan his day and then put it into play.

  • You walk your cat on a leash? That’s hilarious! I’d love to be able to do that! I am having one of those weeks (ok, two weeks) where there is way too much “to-do” and not enough fun. The list of work is way too big right now!
    Laurie @thefrugalfarmer recently posted..The Frugal Farmer’s Getting Married!My Profile

    • Mama PoP

      Yup, there are certainly times like that when our work can overwhelm our time. That’s when I find I need to simplify my list and focus on the survival mode of digging in and gettin ‘er done. Maybe you can reward your hard work with something to look forward to after this mad dash?

  • […] POP from Planting Our Pennies asks: Does Your To Do List Define Your Life? There are still many more things I wish I could be doing now, that isn’t quite in the budget […]

  • […] Planting Our Pennies: Mama Pop has a refreshing take on the traditional to-do list. How many of you actually schedule fun into your days? […]