Is This Secret Ingredient Missing From Your To-Do List?



Have you ever finished an impressive task or to-do list and then looked around at all the carnage in your wake?

By carnage, I mean hurt feelings, unkind words said out of stress or frustration, criticisms that were hardly constructive, and requests from your loved ones that were hastily denied in order to prevent distraction from the task at hand.

I admit it. I’m guilty. But I’m determined to stop the carnage.

Reaching a goal, finishing up a project or completing a to-do list is always nice, but when we fail to complete them with kindness and love, it tarnishes the feeling of victory at the end of day, doesn’t it?

Personally, it ruins everything for me. If love for others doesn’t fuel your efforts, you end the day feeling pretty low, no matter how much you got done.

Now that we’re on the road and taking on bigger goals for our family, there are more tasks – and different challenges – and I’m having to remind myself of this important rule:

If you don’t do something with love and kindness, you’ve just wasted your time, bucko.

It doesn’t matter how great it is – like climbing Mount Everest or becoming CEO of Starbucks. If there are crushed souls in your wake, you didn’t accomplish a darn thing.

It. Was. Meaningless.

Today I had a long to-do list. But I tried to remind myself that it’s not about cleaning out a shelf or sorting through clothes. It’s about doing those things with love. And a smile. And with many (many) pauses to listen to a story about a frog my 6-year-old spotted at the river, or to notice that someone needs a few words of encouragement while he’s tackling his own to-do list.

It means that no matter how stressful a moment might feel, I don’t let it define me and how I treat those around me. It doesn’t color my words with harshness. It doesn’t distract me from the Real Goal.

The Real Goal isn’t to get the dishes done or write a novel or get from Point A to Point B.

The Real Goal is to do the dishes and write a novel and get to your destination with grace and kindness. To do it with love.

Forget that one critical ingredient in your life, and all your successes will ring hollow.

There’s a passage in the Bible – you may have heard it read several hundred thousand times at weddings (and a handful of funerals) – which says it best:

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. 

For those of us on currently RVing fulltime, here’s another way of reading this verse:

If I am able to find the cheapest diesel on the interstate, stay in the best campgrounds for half-price, find all the neat things to see at every stop, trouble-shoot every broken item and fix it like a pro, make a ton of money at my tech-nomadic career, and educate my kids so well Harvard is sending flowers, but do not have love and end up yelling at my spouse, kids and random drivers merging onto the interstate who ARE OBVIOUSLY TEXTING AND NOT PAYING ATTENTION TO THE 25,000 POUND RV IN THE SLOW LANE ABOUT TO SMASH THEM INTO LITTLE BITS: I’ve completely wasted my efforts.

The message is pretty clear. There isn’t anything worth doing – or anything that will be considered great – if it misses this essential ingredient.

When you think about your life’s goals, your to-do list for tomorrow, or those piles of dishes that need to be done tonight, just try to remember what makes it all worthwhile.

And if you’ve already forgotten what that is, WAKE UP, YOU DUMMY!

Just kidding. I love you all. I do. ;)

Your turn: What’s one thing you could do with a little more love?


Jason April 20, 2011 at 10:54 am

I’m sort of dealing with this in my life. Trying to build a side business as well as grow my blog, my (newlywed) wife is finding she didn’t realize how much time it would take up. I started both projects before we got married, and she knew about them. She knows that the goal of both is to be able to pay off debt faster, quit my day job, and be free to move into a life of full-time missionary work. But recently she said sort of as a passing comment that I’m always on my computer. I don’t think she’s angry about it, but she might be a bit disappointed.

I’m really doing all of it for our future. The motivation behind the work is my love for her and excitement for our future together. However I’m realizing that I need to give the work less attention and her more attention more often. We’re new at this marriage business, so I’m still trying to figure out how much time the work gets. :)

This post is very timely!


ps> Thank you so much for the coffee and cookies! I had left town on Friday, and Kathy said they came then. She smelled the coffee before she opened the box and told me I’m lucky the cookies were still there when I got back. She was probably more excited, though, for the hand-made “thank you” note! She loves everything kids do. The note is hanging on the fridge. ;)
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Melanie April 21, 2011 at 5:26 pm


This is a hard one because I’ve been where your wife is. Men can be very focused (like a laserbeam) and hard to distract from their projects. AND with the added pressure of providing for the family or reaching a big goal… it’s hard for wives to cope.

What men don’t realize is that we don’t need as much attention (quantity) if you can give us some regular high-quality doses during the day. If I could advise very-busy husbands everywhere, I would tell them this:

Everyone needs to eat. Pick at least one meal per day that you will always spend with her no matter what for at least one hour.

Here are the rules for that meal:

1. Show up on time.

2. Completely unplug yourself from the project you were working on (do not think about it or talk about it at the meal).

3. Ask her at least three open-ended questions about herself and her day (ex. How are feeling today? What do you think about XYZ? What happened with that XYZ project” and so on).

4. And make at least three positive and complementary observations and/or comments during this meal. (I like how you did your hair today. This chicken is delicious — what did you put in it? Wow, what a beautiful sunset!)

Another good rule for small doses of intimacy during the day? Each time you leave each other or arrive home, exit or enter the room after a significant time away (even if in the same house), get in the habit of a hug and kiss.

Women need to feel an intimate emotional connection with their spouses more so than men. It’s hard for men to know this because they’re wired so differently… and are so practical in their thinking. (Ex. “She wants to spend more time with me but we’re in the same house together for several hours everyday!”)

Whew, can you tell I could go on and on about this subject?

As for the cookies, yay! You got them! Thanks for letting us know… and for you generosity. I’ll tell Sophia her thank you note is hanging on the fridge somewhere in Virginia.

Becca April 20, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Wise words my friend. I always have to remind myself of this. It’s kind of like the ‘automatic no’ I would give my kids whenever they asked me if they could have or do something without really thinking about it. I have learned that if the house is clean for guests, but all my children and my spouse are upset and pouting, attitudes which I created, my home is not pleasing. For me it is a constant battle. Thanks for the thoughts!

Melanie April 21, 2011 at 5:43 pm


I think every mother has been in that situation. When guests are coming, I usually don’t make many friends in the family 1-3 days before hand. I think if you can master being joyful Pre-Guest Arrival during the clean-up, cooking and anxiety-ridden stage, you can pretty much smile during anything else in life. (Of course I know that’s an exaggeration.) ;)

Robyn De La Paz April 24, 2011 at 8:00 pm

My two cents are, as older travelers without children in tow realize we wish we could have told our three kids to jump in the mud and laugh about it. Really life is too short to stress over the really small things, you know everybody’s eating and everyone had a place to sleep last night how lucky are we, so many people wish they could worry about washing dishes they own. Sorry run on sentence, but the kids are gone miss them a lot and you can’t get childhood back so enjoy leaving the sink full of dishes and go look at the lightning bugs with your kids before you know it they will be gone.

Kristen June 28, 2011 at 8:08 pm

I found your blog through Simple Dollar–>The Minimalist Mom–>her post about nomadic families. I like how you have two versions of the same quote. There’s a great song with a poetic re-write of the first passage that I immediately thought of when reading this post: \Without Love\ by Stacie Orrico. Just a fun tidbit!

lisa July 20, 2012 at 4:13 pm

I’m really performing the entire thing for our future. Your determination behind the project can be our love for my child and pleasure for our future collectively. Even so I’m noticing that I want to required perform much less consideration and her much more consideration often. We’re fresh with this union enterprise, and so I’m nevertheless considering the amount of time period the project receives.

Lynell Bumpas October 13, 2013 at 8:36 am

This is a wonderful post. Gladly, I have plenty of that “secret” ingredient.

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