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Of to-do lists and to-dream lists

by Meagan Francis on August 23, 2011

I’m a daydreamer by nature. I’ve spent many hours of my life mentally trying on new lives, new jobs, new hometowns. And this time of year, just before autumn, is a particularly fertile time for my imagination. I find myself setting large goals, dreaming big dreams, setting the bar high.

So right now, my “to-dream” list for the fall is long and ambitious. It includes domestic dreams like giving away all hand-embroidered Christmas gifts and building a root cellar; career-oriented goals like launching a new blog, podcasting, and publishing an e-book; and family-related activities like launching a business with the kids and reading the entire Harry Potter series out loud.

How many of these things will actually happen? Certainly not all of them. Probably only 10%, if that. But that’s okay – this is my to-DREAM list, not my to-DO list.

While I know life is lived from day to day and small goals are key to making large dreams happen, I believe those big, pie-in-the-sky ambitions are important, too. First of all, when you daydream you can try on lots of different fantasies. After a while you’ll see which ones keep coming back and which fade away when the novelty wears off. Second, those large-scale dreams help us hone in on our most deeply-held values and priorities. Even though we may never make the huge life changes or tackle the large-scale goals we dream about – at least not right away – they can still spur us toward making smaller changes that support the way we really want to live and the people we really want to be.

And sometimes a goal just has to recur again and again and again before we take action. That doesn’t mean all the times we dreamed and didn’t take action were wasted. I like to think of them as the building blocks of “someday.” Kind of like how “false” contractions aren’t useless…they might not mean a baby is going to be born tonight, but they get you ready, mind and body and spirit, so the big event can occur down the road.

The only trick, I think, is to make sure we don’t confuse our “to-dream” lists with our “to-do” lists. If we actually anticipate putting every pie-in-the-sky plan into action right away, pretty soon we’ll feel squashed under the weight of all those unmet expectations. But if we allow ourselves to dream, to let ideas percolate without pressure, those dreams can take root in natural, doable, attainable ways over time. Forward motion is necessary, but that forward motion can happen one very small step at a time.

After all, while it’s not terribly likely that all my friends and relatives will get a hand-embroidered Christmas gift this year (umm…I still don’t even know how to embroider), I can probably pull off a single handkerchief…if I actually start the process before December. A new website, podcast AND e-book is probably not in the cards, but letting myself dream about the possibilities makes it easier for me to decide what to prioritize.

Sometimes, I think we stop ourselves from creating “to-dream” lists because they seem juvenile or silly or like too much pressure. We worry that if we put words to those improbable or impractical or just highly ambitious goals, that we’ll look like losers if we don’t make them happen right away (or ever), or that we’ll let ourselves down if we don’t live up to them.

But what if we look at “to-dream” lists as what they really are? They’re a reflection of our best inner selves, of our deepest priorities, of our ideal lives, of the people we would want to be and the things we would want to do if time, money, energy and reality were no object.

Thing is, time, money, energy and reality ARE objects. For everyone. But there is still value in the dreaming.

So please share. This fall, if time, money, and energy were no object, what skills would you like to learn, what talents would you love to develop, what adventures would you like to experience? What is on your “to-dream” list?

Are there any ways you can turn your BIG dreams into smaller accomplishments in the coming months?

Or do you just need to let them brew for a while?

Want more ideas
for creating a happier home life?

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Jan Udlock August 23, 2011 at 8:26 pm

From someone who rarely completes one sentence especially when she’s excited or nervous, I would love to try Toastmasters.


Tragic Sandwich August 23, 2011 at 9:30 pm

I’d like to master Spanish and learn other languages, although I haven’t figured out which ones yet. And I’d like to be a really good cook.


Tara August 23, 2011 at 9:35 pm

This is kind of sad, but I can’t think of anything right now! Maybe because my little guy is only 9 months, and all I can imagine is taking care of him. Ahh, it feels kind of wrong that I can’t think of anything I want to do!


Meagan Francis August 24, 2011 at 6:34 am

Tara, I think it’s pretty normal to be very focused on your baby, and that’s not sad at all! But I wonder if you are looking at this exercise as more of a “to-do” than a “to-dream”…or more achievement-oriented than just life-oriented. Do you have any recurring fantasies about where you’d like to live (goat farm, on a boat, overseas?) Or the way you see yourself spending time with your son down the road? No pressure…but just don’t think of it as things you “get done”. Many things on my to-dream list are just alternate lives I’d like to sample (see: owner of goat farm….)


Rosie from HomeRoutines August 23, 2011 at 10:08 pm

My to-dream list…. I want to take a drama class, to see the Northern Lights, to take the kids on a road trip around the South Island, to finally visit Europe, to learn to swim properly! But for now the kids are nearly 2, 4 and just-7… smaller goals are in order.

When I read Getting Things Done I had to write down all my To Dos and even having some of these things on my Some Day/One Day list made me feel kind of bad and stressed. I like the idea of just letting them percolate around in my mind for now.


Tiny Blue Lines August 24, 2011 at 5:46 am

All women after my own heart! I love dreaming, planning, and thinking of the “to-do’s,” both large and small…sometimes I have to discipline myself to enjoy focusing on the here and now more. It’s a hard balance of looking forward to the future while loving what I have right now. I’m starting a new job as a night labor and delivery nurse next week, so my goals are to just get through that with some sort of sleep and keep plugging away at my writing! :)


misty August 24, 2011 at 6:03 am

Great post! Seriously… as an avid list maker, i often have my to-do list and my project list. That is it. Than in the back of my mind, hidden away, are those things that would go on a dream list. It never occured to me to put them down on paper.


CaroMama August 24, 2011 at 6:54 am

I’ve been struggling lately with feeling like I either focus myself too much (to the detriment of my creativity), or I get too scattered and unfocused (to the detriment of my productivity). I have these spurts of creative energy that almost feel impossible to hone, but I think you’re right–they’re just percolating. And maybe something will come of them, or maybe it won’t, but they’re productive in their own right by just being what they are.

That said, this fall I plan on making all homemade Christmas gifts (canning some produce from the garden/farmers market and knitting), getting pregnant with our second child, and defining a “sacred space” for myself where I can let the creative juices flow and DREAM BIG.


Emily August 24, 2011 at 7:52 am

I am a daydreamer at heart too. There are so so so many things I dream of doing someday. Some of them include: take piano lessons, take guitar lessons, try ballet, travel to every US state, buy a cottage or cabin on a creek/lake, join a book club, and the list goes on.


Brianna August 24, 2011 at 8:55 am

I’m having my first baby this fall and I would love to increase the additional income that my small freelance design business brings in to be enough so that I won’t have to go back to my corporate gig once my leave is up. That and learn to sew :)


Natalie August 24, 2011 at 11:05 am

I am future focused and tend to become obsessed with the “next phase” while forgetting to enjoy the current phase. One great things about small children is that they have taught me to slow down (a little at least) and wait for the the right time to accomplish goals. That said, I’ve got quite a few dreams in storage. For example: learn to knit and can, go back to school and become a children’s librarian, take a licensing exam hanging around from my pre-kids life, live closer to family, travel Europe with my husband, take my kids to disney. Thats just a start. Now my three year old is crying because I can’t hold her and type at the same time. Another dream: have 5 minutes of uninterrupted time!


Meagan Francis August 24, 2011 at 6:12 pm

Now THAT is a dream I would like to see come true, Natalie!

I tend to be “future-focused” too and definitely try to keep myself in the here and now. But I think that anticipation of what’s ahead has a way of making today feel a little more charged, a little more exciting. And that’s great…as long as it doesn’t get in the way of enjoying life.


Karen August 24, 2011 at 11:18 am

Wow, so happy to have found you and read all these lovely Moms’ comments! I dream of being completely self-employed with my singing and teaching. More time with my sweet 4 year old and less time at a corporate job that pays the bills (great!) but brings no artistic and personal satisfaction. My dream goal would be to complete this transition by the time he goes to school so I am home when he gets home to do homework and play and love together! Good luck to everyone!


Ellen August 24, 2011 at 12:03 pm

Thank you for this post Megan! I am married to a dreamer, and as the practical one, I think I am often the “dream killer” in our house! Thanks for reminding me that there is room for dreams in life. That being said, I think I do have some of my own suppressed dreams…. take a writing class (I would love to take yours if I were closer!), figure out what I really want to be when I “grow up”, really get organized this time, learn more about photography, do some of those projects with my kids….more than I thought actually! Happy dreaming!


Meagan Francis August 24, 2011 at 4:52 pm

Hey Ellen! Just so you know…my classes are online. So you don’t have to be nearby to take them!


Adventures In Babywearing August 24, 2011 at 3:17 pm

I dream about taking French again and would like to speak it fluently, and art classes, like really study fine art and do something with that knowledge. Neither of those things have anything to do with my current life- they would be totally extra which I love. A separation from “being a mom and writer”.



Shari August 24, 2011 at 6:25 pm

Hah – the first thing on my wishlist for this fall would be to take your writing class. I have writing/blogging/could I make money at this? percolating in the back of my mind, so seeing your classes excited me, but then I slowed down, took a breath, and realized this is not yet the time to move on this. To much existing chaos in our lives to take on something new. That said, I hope your classes are successful so you will offer them again, and I hope to participate at a later time. Also on my fall wishlist is to work on landscaping/gardening our home (mostly my own labor) and complete plans for our home renovation (mostly other people’s labor) — you see some of the chaos I’m referencing here. Oh — and get back to reading fiction, for myself, for the joy — oh, and get back to yoga too!


Heather August 24, 2011 at 8:27 pm

My dream list includes getting a degree, becoming a perinatal nurse in a holistic minded birthing center, owning a house (with a porch overlooking a creek, a dog and a garden), and being a creative, organized balanced wife and mother. Big dreams!


Marian August 24, 2011 at 8:38 pm

I want to have a little more financial freedom to travel and give more money away. One cool thing near the top of my list is surfing. I’d like to try surfing before my body won’t allow such a thing. I’m 46, but I think there’s still time.


Ana August 25, 2011 at 5:54 am

I love this concept….of allowing ourselves to dream, but not being beholden to those dreams. Knowing that I don’t have to do a darn thing really frees me to explore “impractical” goals.

That being said, my brain is very much mired in the more immediate future right now. I think pregnancy/early infancy has enough unknown about it that its very difficult to move beyond simply dreaming that I will be able to gracefully handle the next 6 months. I’ll have to flag this somehow to come back to it next year!


stef September 12, 2011 at 7:01 am

I flagged this great web page by sending myself a link on my yahoo calendar and chose a date 6 months later … I’m so glad I did because it was a lovely surprise to receive this link this morning on my e-mail, my head space is now in a different place with my 2 young children, and I can start to dream again.


Marith Adams August 25, 2011 at 6:58 am

Since childhood, I’ve had roughly the same dreams. As I’m 46 and the only one I’ve accomplished thus far is owning a horse, I suspect the rest aren’t likely to come true. Alas.
I don’t have a loft in New York, where I throw wildly-successful parties every night, nor do I sit on a fire escape each morning, writing the great American novel. I don’t backpack around Europe, living on bread, wine, and whatever cheese I can wrangle out of my hosts. I don’t travel the world in search of enlightenment, long-lost treasure, or David Bowie (oddly enough). I do not rub elbows with great actors, reclusive authors, or bohemian artists. I’m not even a veterinarian or interior designer.
In fact, I’m about as far from what I’ve always day-dreamed of as it’s possible to be. (Even owning that horse only lasted until I left for school.)
Still, life is pretty amazing! I have a wonderful, talented husband, friends who blow my mind every, single day, and a sweet, beautiful, little girl who completely changed my life (and my rather crappy opinion of children, in general). I’m very thankful I’m not on that New York fire escape.
For the most part.


christine August 25, 2011 at 9:05 am

i so needed this, especially as the companion piece w/the brillant post from a few days ago re: how life is made up of moments…finding the joy in the day-to-day (i soooo needed that reminder), while also allowing oneself the freedom to think a bit bigger and figure out ways to (eventually) get there. i decided recently to create a “40 before 40″ list – I have 2.5 years to complete this. The first 10 items I’m going to try to get my husband on board with, and call it the “10 before 10″ in anticipation of our 10th wedding anniversary (but we only have one year for that list)!…I’ve got a few things in mind – some more to-do list oriented (“organize recipes” “create wills” “establish weekly movie night”), but i hope to also use the list to tackle some “biggies” – most specifically, my next phase. I’ve focused the last 6 years on kids, with a few extra bits of outside-the-home employment here and there, but i know that eventually I’m going to have to get back to *something.* I grew up dancing, but opted not to pursue a dance degree or professional career. Sometimes I think of this so regretfully, but I know I have the power to get back into it into dance/the arts in some way, shape or form….so its definitely going on my 40 before 40 list!!


Dona B August 25, 2011 at 10:37 pm

I have so much enjoyed reading this post and it’s comments. I was just today remembering how my fourth grade teacher gave me credit for daydreaming. It was brilliant of her because it gave me the space to dream in, but also taught me to balance that with actually getting things done.

For years I have kept a list of dreamy goals – some far more practical than others. I call it my 100 Things list and it is stuck in the back of my journal. Though right now it only has about 80 things because I accomplished a bunch and consolidated some others. Two of the things I accomplished last year were to quit my job and to become a mother. Now I have a 7 month old and am dreaming about the next chapter of my life. I hope it includes building a business that allows me to continue to stay home with her, learning to play the cello, getting another degree, and making home made bread and cheeses on a regular basis.


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