For most of us, the month of May is sheer madness. It’s an all out free-for-all, calendar cramming, mayhem. It’s probably busier than the holidays, but there are no gifts. Without fail, by mid- May I seriously question my scheduling sanity. If I can just make it to June, the reward looks like the pool and smells like sunscreen.

But how do I get there from here?  And, how do I avoid finding myself on this crazy train again? What can I do to make my life simpler? What is on my to-do list that is a MUST do? What have I allowed to be on my list that is not required?

Friends, I love my lists, and I’ve been known to add to my list tasks I have already accomplished just so I can check them off. Further, I’ve always prided myself on being someone who is dependable, helpful, and available. So please hear me when I say shrinking my list is not an easy feat.

Here are a few guidelines that have helped me take a red pen to my to-do list and simplify my life:

Does this fall into one of my top three priorities – wife, mother, writer?

Take some time to think about the roles you play and how you prioritize. These are the three roles to which I am called, and there is no one else called to do this work. No one else is called to be Mark’s wife. I said, “I do.” No one else is called to be my girls’ mother. Just me. I believe I am a writer. I believe with every fiber of my being that when I write, God smiles, even when no one else reads it. To be faithful to this work, I tell my stories because no one else can tell them. And by writing, I become a better version of who I was created to be.

Who are you called to be? What are your non-negotiable roles that require your time and attention? What other responsibilities are you juggling? Get honest with yourself and rank your priorities.  You can only have one #1.  There are no ties in a well-ordered life.

Is this a must-do or a nice-to-do? Is it urgent or can it wait for a better time? 

Even if it’s on my list because it stems from one of my top priorities, there’s margin to find. Underwear must be washed if they have none clean. The dishwasher always needs to be unloaded, but more often than not, I can simplify my life by ensuring that the tyranny of the mundane hasn’t edged out what has lasting value: quality time reading books, playing marbleworks or listening to someone talk about their day. That dinner for his job is nice-to-do, but making time to invest in our marriage with a date night is a must-do.

Start by writing down all the tasks running through your mind.  If you need to, make several lists.  Once it’s written down, you can’t forget it, so the anxiety about dropping the ball will lessen.  Now look at your list and evaluate.  Why is it on your list? When MUST it be accomplished? Unorganized tasks seem to all shout “NOW!” and “FIRST!”, but silence the bullying and take your schedule back.

Is this on my list because I want to do it or because I think it’s expected of me?

Folks there’s a place for expectations when they hold us accountable to what we believe, but living a life defined by what we think is expected of us is an exhausting hamster wheel. Get off. (Hate disappointing people? Check out this article.)

One year when one of my girlfriends declared #justsaynojanuary, I cheered loudly and jumped on board. For 31 days in January, every request, invitation, event, outing passed through a simple filter: does that fall into one of my top priorities? Do I WANT to do that? If the answers were yes, it made it to the list or calendar. Otherwise, #justsaynojanuary.

Listen, if you say “yes” because you “should” or because it’s “expected,” extend yourself some grace and carve out some whitespace. Find out what you WANT to do, who you want to be, and what you want your life to look like right now – in this season, right where you are.

Start by picking your favorite hashtag: #justsaynojanuary #forgetitfebruary #maybenotmarch #absolutelycantapril #mustnotmay #justcantjune #justnotyetjuly #aintgottimeaugust #sorryitsseptember #ohnooctober #nopenovember #donotaskmedecember

It may feel too late to claim #mustnotmay, but consider redeeming this crazy season by using the chaos to fuel an honest assessment of where you spend your time and how you can make the most of your minutes.  May is the perfect time to do a little assessment – not just of my schedule, but whether I’m taking care of me so that I can survive the whirlwind. (Try this one.)  It’s not too early to think about whether your summer schedule has enough margin, or to consider how to shape the calendar during the next school year.

If nothing else, take heart!  May is almost over.  😉

Speaking of saying NO and summer plans, here are a few resources I’m loving right now.

– This episode of the God-Centered Mom Podcast features a discussion with Christy Wright helped me reframe my approach to saying yes or no to a request for my time.  Hint: it’s not “Can I do it?” Or “Do I have time?”  The perspective she offers it’s applicable is absolutely relevant to all of us whether we’re moms or not.

– My friend Amy Wicks from Simply Wholehearted tees up a Super Summer Challenge for kiddos. It’s not a to do list, it IS about making your minutes count, instead of counting the minutes. It starts with thoughtfully looking at the calendar and purposefully considering what you and the munchkins WANT to accomplish, enjoy, experience, learn, see, and do.

– This article advocates for the beauty of unplugging.  Hint, it’s more than just limiting screen time.  I appreciate the perspective and think it’s important to contemplate the role of technology in creating and sustaining the pace that leaves us exhausted.   (Ever notice how you feel after scrolling social media? Is it better or worse than going for a walk with a friend?