There is a pretty good chance you have a to-do list—and that it never seems to get any shorter. Whether it is scribbled on scrap paper, color-coded in a planner, or sent as reminders from the cloud, our to-do lists can be both a blessing and a curse.

On the blessing side, a to-do list can help keep you organized and on task while also providing a little spark of joy when you get to cross something off (that spark of joy is why some people add something to their to-do list after they have done it—so they can immediately get the satisfaction of crossing it out).

On the curse side, a to-do list can feel like a treadmill you can’t turn off. For every item marked off, it can seem like two get added to the bottom. Sometimes something that you thought you were finished with turns out not to be finished—and back on the to-do list it goes. The list can seem like a tangible reminder that you can’t seem to ever catch up.

A to-do list can also distract you from something very important in your life: Your goals.

Set Some Goals in Recovery

Now, it may seem like a to-do is, in fact, a list of goals, but in reality, most to-do lists are catalogs of tasks rather than goals. Let’s look at the difference—starting with the number one goal of a person in recovery.

Goal Number One: Stay Sober

When you are in recovery from a substance use disorder, your number one goal is staying sober. 

To accomplish that goal, you might have a list of activities—a to-do list—that will help you accomplish that goal. It might include going to recovery meetings regularly, getting enough exercise and enough sleep, and keeping a journal, for example.

It is important to remember that those things—and many others beside—are intended to help you maintain sobriety. That’s the goal. Keeping a journal is a step that might keep you moving toward that goal, but it is not the goal itself.

Keeping your eye on the goal can help you manage the to-do list, too. If you recognize that something on your list is not helping you get where you want to go, it is likely time to make a change. Removing unhelpful items from your to-do list is a way to reduce your overall level of stress—which is also an important way to support your sobriety.

Our point here extends to all kinds of goals. Let’s take a look at another example.

Goal Number Two: What’s Important to You?

Take a moment to think about an important personal goal. It can be just about anything—earning a promotion at work, volunteering for an organization that is important to you, helping your kid understand algebra. 

Now, look at the latest iteration of your to-do list. What’s on it that will help you achieve your goal? What’s on it that won’t? Are there things you could scratch off the list or give less time to so that you can emphasize tasks that build a ladder toward your goal?

This sort of reprioritization is one way to add a sense of meaning and purpose to your life. If you can keep your eyes on the goal rather than getting stuck in the muck of a never-ending to-do list, you might find you feel happier, less stressed, and more motivated. In addition to moving toward your personal goal, you will be experiencing feelings that support your ongoing sobriety.

The Trick is Keeping the To-Do List Targeted Toward Your Goals

Listen, some things are going to end up on your to-do list that seem barely related to your goals. You have to file your taxes, you need to shop for groceries, you have to see the dentist. There are plenty of these sorts of tasks in everyone’s life, and generally speaking, they can’t be avoided.

With that in mind, we might suggest that you need more than one to-do list. You might have a list for the daily and weekly tasks that make up day-to-day life. But you might also have a list that reminds you of the steps necessary to move toward your important goals. Keeping the lists separated and targeted can make them feel both more manageable and more meaningful.

If Your Goal is Sobriety, We Can Help

At The Aviary Recovery Center—located near St. Louis, Missouri—our primary goal is simple: We work to improve the lives we touch by offering personalized treatment for substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health disorders. If you are struggling with drugs or alcohol, your primary goal right now should be to reclaim your sobriety. The Aviary offers medically supervised detoxification to help you do just that. We follow it up with a robust rehabilitation program that provides strategies and resources to help you reach your new goal: staying sober. And we provide ongoing support so you can start your recovery journey with confidence. First step toward achieving these goals? Let us help you change your life.