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When Your To-Do List Makes You Hyperventilate

Need a shift in perspective when it comes to your to-do list? To stop thinking " I have to drive and get groceries." and instead think " I get to do this errand — because we have enough money to purchase provisions and we own a car, so I don’t have to walk. " A Proverbs 31 Ministries devotion from karenehman.comDo you ever scratch out your to-do list, but then are afraid to look at it because there are just so many “to-dos” to get done?

“Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord. You serve the Lord Christ.” Colossians 3:23-24 (HCSB)

I grabbed my mango-mint iced tea, a spiral notepad and pen and headed to my backyard deck.

Settling myself into a lounge chair, I began to tackle the chore that was before me: writing out my to-do list for the week. Although my notepad was whimsical and my pen was laden with bright purple ink, these organizational objects couldn’t cancel the dread I felt about having to think it through, write it down and then execute the many tasks before me.

My life as a wife, mom, worker, daughter, neighbor, church member and friend brings me much delight. I get to watch my son play football, help my adult daughter look for her first house and work on projects with others that I love and believe in.

However, my life also brings me lots of “to-dos”: Purchases to make. Closets to organize. Paperwork to complete. Phone calls to return. Research to be done. Pots and pans to scrub. Kids to shuttle. Parents to check on. And on and on it goes.

Sometimes — when I get my list all scrawled out on paper — instead of feeling energized with a game plan, my emotions go into panic mode. I’m almost afraid to look at the list since it seems monumental. While most of the tasks in and of themselves aren’t too difficult or time-consuming, when viewed as a whole, they seem like a massive mountain I’ll never be able to scale.

And then, on top of the panic, I also start to pout. My mind starts looping the “poor me” soundtrack that results from just looking at my list.

Poor me … I have to mop the floors.

Poor me … I have paperwork to finish.

Poor me … I have to drive and get groceries.

Poor me … I have to run my son to practice.

Poor me … I have to work on the computer for a few hours to finish this project.

Poor, poor, pitiful me!

Today’s key passage addresses this “poor me” mentality by giving us a fresh perspective as we go about our work: “Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men …”

Three words jump up at me as I stop and ponder this verse:

1. Whatever.

Whatever I do. Not just the tasks I enjoy, or the work that brings me recognition or the duties that I find also fun, but WHATEVER I do is to be done …

2. Enthusiastically.

Enthusiastically is defined as “done lively and with great interest; wholeheartedly, sincerely, energetically and earnestly.” Hmmm … I’m not so sure that describes my attitude as I tackle the “whatevers” on my to-do list. How about you?

3. Lord.

It is the Lord himself we are serving as we enthusiastically check off our “whatevers.” Not a husband. Or kids. Not a boss or the committee chairperson. We are serving Jesus Christ Himself as we work.

How about we hit the re-start button when it comes to taking our lists from “to-do” to “It’s done!”? Let’s not panic. Or pout. Rather, let’s loop thoughts through our minds Colossians 3:23 style.

In other words:

I don’t have to clean my house. I get to clean my house — because I have a place to call my own, while many are homeless or displaced. And I am serving the Lord Jesus as I clean.

I don’t have to fill out this team permission slip. I get to fill it out — because my child is healthy enough for physical activity and has caring, volunteer coaches who give of their time. And I am serving the Lord Jesus as I write.

I don’t have to drive and get groceries. I get to do this errand — because we have enough money to purchase provisions and we own a car, so I don’t have to walk. And I am serving the Lord Jesus as I shop.

We don’t have to. We get to. And thanks be to God that we do.

Father, thank You for all the to-dos on my list. Help me always remember that I am working for You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.


If you’d like more encouragement in the area of tackling your work with enthusiasm, check out my friend Glynnis Whitwer’s book, Taming the To-Do List: How to Choose Your Best Work Everyday.

Need to take your list from "to-do" to "It's done!"? GIVEAWAY of the new book Taming The To-Do List over at karenehman.com

Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

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  1. It seems like life in general. I feel overwhelmed a lot of the time and hear myself saying I HAVE TO instead of I GET TO.

  2. There are two things on my to do list I need to change my perspective on: cleaning the kitchen and cleaning the bathroom. I definitely need to get into the “I get to” mentality.

  3. Cleaning the bathrooms! I should be thankful that we live in a house that has indoor plumbing. And even though it’s more to clean, I am thankful that we have more than one bathroom. Our house may be small, but it’s where God blessed my husband and I with our daughter, and for that I am forever grateful.

  4. Planning my menu for the week and my grocery list. I have no idea why this is so hard for me. I even have meals plans delivered to my email every week to help with this.

    I am so fortunate to be able to plan whatever we would like to eat for the week. That is a huge blessing that I shouldn’t take for granted.

  5. I often dread doing the dishes by myself while my husband watches TV, but now I see that I get to do this so that he doesn’t have to. He can rest after a long day at work and school and I serve him through my actions.

  6. Laundry!!! I try to tell myself most days that I’m lucky I have a family to do laundry but it doesn’t make it more exciting!! Haha!!

  7. I hate laundry! It’s a chore that is never ending. I never feel like I can cross it off the list. My boys wonder why I even put it on the list because it is always there.

  8. Cleaning/Scrubbing the bathroom toilet….yuck! My new perspective on this is that I am thankful I have a toilet to clean and that a dirty toilet tells me my children are potty trained! :P

  9. Having to pack school lunch boxes again. I just never know what to put in there to keep it exciting and appetizing to my boys.

  10. I hate to admit it, but I dread taking care of my 95 year old grandma and my mom who is in a nursing home with numerous medical issues. I should be grateful they’re still around for me to visit and take care of! Lord, forgive me.

  11. Thanks, Karen! We arse blessed and privileged to have daily tasks to do each day. Thank you for bringing the perspective back. Yearly physicals is the dreaded item on my liste this fall.
    Thank you Lord for health and that I get to have medical care available to me.

  12. I think it’s a toss-up between cleaning up the kitchen after supper and laundry! Thank you for the fresh perspective!

  13. I have a hard time getting my dishes done right after dinner. I think I feel justified because I am usually the only one responsible for dinner. I suppose I should be thankful I have a number of dishes to sustain me, rather than be bitter that I have to both make dinner and clean up. I also should be thankful to have more than enough to put on my plates!

  14. Oh, I’d have to say… Housework in general :( It always takes me twice as long & 4 times the energy to do anything. Definitely need a perspective shift.

  15. Would you believe, I procrastinate even making my to do list! I dread even doing that. When I do, I get so much more done! Would love to win a copy of this book!

  16. My least favorite thing to do is probably clean – the dishes, the floor, the bathroom, the fridge. Ugh! I do remind myself every so often as I pick up one more sock from the floor, that I’m doing this for Jesus. And to go along with that, I try to say thank you for having a floor in a nice house to clean. Cultivating thankfulness lowers the drudgery of all the above. :) What a great reminder your devotion was, thanks for the encouragement!

  17. With this new perspective change I can shift from “I have to study for this exam in college tomorrow” to “I have the awesome privilege of attending college and taking this test so that I can learn more!”

  18. Today I GET to write yet another letter to advocate for my mentally ill adult son to receive the help he so desperately needs. It truly is a “get to” and, even though our son is often not appreciative, having the mindset of doing it for the Lord makes a huge difference. Thank you for the devotion, Karen. It was very timely.

  19. I dislike doing dishes and my husband gave me a new perspective during one of his sermons. He said we should make it a time of thanking God that a have dishes and food to get those dishes dirty! Doesn’t work all the time, but I try to change my thought process.

  20. Timely message for me – some health issues have required the need for many medical appointments & tests and now ultimately surgery. My to-do list to be ready to be out of work and totally dependent for 6 weeks seems very overwhelming right now. Changing from “I have to” to “I get to” will help me refocus my energy to thankfulness instead of dread. Thanks!

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