Captain’s Log — Why Keeping Lists Has Kept Me Sane

Is it Tuesday today? Or maybe Friday? What month are we in? This past year has been so disorienting as we stayed home for days on end without any of our normal activities to create the rhythm to our weeks.

As a stay-at-home mom, I didn’t have to make the adjustment to work-from-home life, but this also meant I didn’t have meetings, deadlines, or coworkers to help keep me on track and provide some sense of routine amid a life-altering year. All the weekly events my son and I would typically attend, as a way to connect with others and break up the days, were canceled. My weekdays and weekends became essentially the same. Sometime around mid-summer, I started feeling like a ship lost out at sea, and I decided I needed a way to feel grounded in our new home-bound life — or else I might have to jump overboard. 

That is when lists saved the day. 

The captain’s log has historically been maintained by the captain of a ship as a daily record of what is happening on a boat. From notes about the weather, who was working each day, the ship’s position, and any other important details about the day-to-day events taking place while away from shore. As the self-proclaimed captain of my family’s ship, I decided now was as good a time as any to start making my own “Captain’s Log” about our daily happenings.  

I started with making a daily record of what I cooked our family for dinner. It may seem like a basic task, but providing a healthy meal for my family every day is actually a lot of work. And after making dinner every single day since the initial lockdown started, with no recollection of what I cooked or anything to show for all the work I’d been doing, it left me feeling tired but also unaccomplished. So, I started a daily dinner log. It was nothing fancy, I simply took a journal and each night made a small note of what I cooked that day.

  • 10/4 – Buddha Bowls
  • 10/5 – Pasta with cherry tomatoes, garlic and spinach
  • 10/6 – Thai veggie red curry with noodles
  • 10/7 – Fajitas
  • 10/8 – Lentil soup 

It proved to be quite effective. To date, I have recorded over six months of meals in a small brown notebook that I keep in my kitchen. Now instead of a blur of vague memories of time spent preparing and eating, I have a very literal way to look back over the seemingly endless days, to help me acknowledge that I accomplished something good for my family every day, and it comes with the added bonus of a physical record of ideas for what to cook in weeks ahead.

Next, I decided I needed to do some list-making to help with my mental state. It’s scientifically proven that if you focus on the things you are grateful for each day, it can rewire your brain and improve your health. A pandemic seemed like a perfect time to test this research for myself. I did this by starting a nightly gratitude journal. Nothing fancy or complicated, I just ended each day jotting down three things from my day that I was thankful for in a little journal I kept by my bed. Now instead of a sea of days blurring together, I have an entire journal full of blessings that made each day good. A great thing to be able to flip through and bring joy, especially on those days when winter seemed to drag on. 

  • 12/15 – Having a fridge full of food, Peter’s giggles, my slippers
  • 12/16 – A few extra minutes of sleep this morning, weekday lunch as a family, dark chocolate

Lists to the rescue again! 

The pandemic helped jump started some new list making habits for me, but in truth, recording small things about my life wasn’t an entirely new activity. There are a few daily recording activities I’ve been doing on and off for a while now, and as the months of the past crazy year dragged on, I committed to continuing them with an increased intentionality. 

One of the most meaningful daily recording activities is my five year daily memory journal for moms. I was given a blank lined notebook for recording daily memories at my baby shower and its turned into one of the most valuable gifts I received. Now 2.5 years into parenting life, I’ve managed to record a little sentence or two “almost” every day, of a small memory from our day. Those first months (heck years) where you are so exhausted you sleepwalk through many days, doesn’t bode well for remembering all the beautiful things that happen. But stopping to make a note of them in the moment each day is an incredible way to capture the little things I would likely have missed. These memories are priceless and would have otherwise been mostly forgotten. 

  • 1/14/2021 – Today I got upset after Peter threw his cup and silverware on the floor at lunch. He looked at me straight in the eyes as I was scolding him and said, “Mom, take a deep breath, try to calm down, you will feel better.” It took everything for me not to laugh. Guess I also need to take the advice I give him!  

Another daily record activity I do is around my fertility. Ever since my husband and I took a natural family planning class as part of our marriage prep I have been charting my monthly cycle. This simple task has given me more awareness of my own body, helped me understand mood swings, and most importantly has been very helpful as we make steps to grow our family. The ability to look back over time and see simple notes I took down each day about my cycle has given me data and information to help empower me in my own health.

A worthwhile list indeed!

It’s been a disorienting season for so many of us. For me, I found that the simple act of keeping lists, making daily records of some of the small activities taking place in my day proved to be a great way to ground me in the moment and provide perspective no matter how far away we were from shore.

During a year when I didn’t have the capacity to do long-form journaling, or have the mental energy to focus on the bigger picture, I was able to take a few minutes here and there during my day to jot down notes about things happening and activities we did. My “Captain’s Log” reminded me that our ship was still running well, we had a capable crew, our spirits were high, and I had what it took to travel along these uncharted waters. Despite the many things about this year we all want to forget, I’m so grateful for the small lists, memories, and notes I’ve recorded to also allow me to be able to remember just how resilient my crew proved to be.

Ashley is a mom to an incredibly active toddler, and wife to a kind-hearted Louisville, KY native. After over a decade living in Brooklyn, NY, and few years in Cincinnati, OH, she recently returned home to KC to plant roots and grow her family. Most days you will find her exploring local parks, libraries and playgroups with her son, and tapping into Kansas Cities great art scene whenever she can.