Here is how it starts.

I’m standing in the kitchen; it’s early morning.

I have energy from a great night’s sleep, from the quiet hour I spent doing what I love.

I feel invincible.

I look at the dirty dishes in the sink, the ones I turned away from last night without a backward glance.

I mentally walk through my day, considering what I need to do, what I have to do, what I want to do.

I want to do it all.

I divide the list: work tasks, household chores, friends to reach out to, activities with the girls.

I think about how wonderful and accomplished I will feel at the end of the day when it’s all done… all the items on my work list marked off, all my best intentions about spending time with the girls fulfilled. I picture the sink empty and shining, the laundry folded and put away, the counters clear, the floors swept clean, the shoes in the mudroom lined up neatly, ready for tomorrow.

I imagine perfection.

Even as I imagine it, I know it’s impossible. I can’t possibly do it all. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever.

For a few minutes, though, I hold that tension, the one between all I would like to do and all I can actually do.

When reality sets in, I return to discipline. I return to discipline time after time, because it’s what works for me.

During my homeschooling days, I kept a binder with elaborate lists: morning routine, school schedule, afternoon routine, bedtime routine. Each list contained my best intentions for each part of the day.To get where I wanted to go, I would follow those lists like a sure route home.

Three young girls — our days took plenty of detours, meandering down one side road or another. Those lists, though, served as guardrails: they kept us on the path, kept us from falling off the edge.

I used the lists because they worked for me.

I get the most done and feel the best about what I’ve accomplished when my life is regimented and structured.

It’s been a while since the days I kept that binder and followed those lists. My two oldest girls have been in school now for many months.

A couple of weeks ago, I made a new binder with new lists. I pulled the old ones from their protective sleeves, tossed them in the recycling bin. I slid the new lists into place, smiling.

These new lists, like the old ones, will keep me moving forward, remind me of my most important priorities.

They are my sure route home, my guardrails, my marching orders.

I don’t follow them precisely.

I don’t even try.

Instead, I hold this tension between perfection and reality, between all that I would like to do and all I can actually do.

I do what I can. I don’t look back. I feel invincible.

Tell me something! What works for you? What are your guardrails? How do you stay focused on your most important priorities? What do you do to balance the tension between perfection and reality?