Our lives have changed significantly in the past few weeks as Covid-19 has spread around the globe and into our communities. In the space of a month we shifted from life-as-usual to- if our jobs and lifestyles allowed it- nearly complete isolation. For all of us, this is a challenge. For individuals struggling with mental health issues, this abrupt lifestyle shift may be even harder.
Why To-Do Lists Work for Me
Personally, creating a to-do list for each day is critical to help me get motivated to move into my day productively. At the end of the day, reviewing my to do list helps me feel accomplished and proud of myself – my list helps me see meaningful achievements even though I may not have had any external affirmations.
It’s OK if a To-Do List Isn’t for You
Everyone is processing this season of grief and transition differently, and I do want to name and make abundantly clear that there’s really no wrong way to move through this season as long as the choices you are making are choices made with kindness for yourself and your community.
If rest and reset- or even rage or grief- are what you need to hold yourself well in the season then, by all means, put a to-do list on hold. For many of us, however, giving ourselves structure and goals can help us move through this season with more care.
Why a Purpose and Mindfulness-Based Check In?
As I considered my own way of being in isolation (currently four days into self-quarantine as an asthmatic in Seattle) I reflected on how my daily to-do list in my journal is focused less on “hustling” in a professional sense, and more on elements of well-being, and tasks I need to accomplish to care for myself (like care for my body, my living space, and the living things in my care.)
While researchers actually don’t know a lot about how isolation and quarantine might affect our mental health, we can draw some conclusions from existing research that demonstrates basic truths like: 1. Small accomplishments can help release serotonin in our brain, boosting mood. 2. Mindfulness, like a spiritual practice or turning intentional awareness to sensory experience, can lower stress hormones, 3. Exercise – even gentle, in-home movement- improves general well-being and immune system function, and 4. Connecting with other humans – even over the phone or via video – can release the hormone oxytocin which has many mental health benefits.
How to Use
I hope this resource inspires creative adaptations that are attuned to your own needs and goals during this time.
For those who would like an easy print-and-fill-out PDF of this worksheet, you can download your below for a small fee.
The version of this PDF licensed for professional therapists to use in session, can be provided to clients to fill out daily as a connection point between sessions or used as a check-in with clients at the beginning of video sessions.
Postscript: Is it better to use a to-do list in the morning or or at the end of a day?
I recommend experimenting with filling out your to do list in the evening for the next day or filling out your to do list first thing in the morning. Making a to do list can affect sleep- either improving it or decreasing quality of sleep. For some people, making a list for the next day helps them go to sleep resting in the fact that they have a plan, for others a nighttime-created to do list will continue to run through their minds as they try and fall asleep. If you don’t have a sense of which category you fall into, trial and error is the best way to find out: experiment with how it feels to wake up and create your daily to do list over your morning cup of coffee, and compare that with how it feels to end the day by creating goals for the next day. In either case, it can be helpful at the end of the day to review that day’s to do list. Checking boxes and filling out the worksheet – whether it’s in printable or journaled form can help create a mood-boosting sense of accomplishment.