Back in the ‘80s, while interviewing for the position of administrative assistant to the director of R&D of an engineering company, I confessed I was an enthusiastic list-maker. Turned out my preoccupation with creating order via lists was exactly the quality my new boss valued the most in an assistant. Sometimes being an obsessive-compulsive control freak can work in one’s favor. Offering to wash my new boss’s Audi probably didn’t hurt my chances either.
So, yes, I admit it. I’m one of those people. I’ve been fixated on creating lists as long as I can remember. My mother once told me that I even made lists as a child. She didn’t say it with a smile on her face either. I think I might have been “helping” her organize her life at the time. My mother wasn’t nearly as appreciative as that R&D director, whose own boss would just shake his head at the number of projects I was juggling and keeping on target.
But back to everyday lists. Lists keep chaos at bay. Multi-tasker that I am, trust me on this one. Lists set attainable goals. When faced with an overwhelming project, breaking that large project into manageable bite-size pieces, and then ordering those pieces on a list, saves your sanity and narrows your focus. Mind fog will clear and the path before you will smooth. But the best part is the sense of accomplishment one gets as each finished task is crossed off, edging you closer to that finish line. I’ve even been known to add something I just finished to my list purely for the satisfaction of crossing it off. Did I really just say that out loud? Can’t take it back now.
For several weeks sheltering in place has cleared my calendar. No schedules, no appointments, no lunch dates, no writer’s group meetings, no dance lessons to work errands around, equals no need for a list to keep me on track and organized. But, here’s the thing: what I’ve learned about myself is that, no matter how minor the task, if it’s not written down, it’s not likely to get done. Without my lists I become an “it-can-wait-until-tomorrow” slug. I’ve discovered I need my lists to be productive, and I guess my need to feel productive is stronger than I thought. It’s that Protestant work ethic that was drilled into me from childhood: idle hands and the devil’s work.
Can you guess where this is going? Yup, back to the discipline of list-making. I wrote my list for yesterday, and by late afternoon I’d crossed off cutting back aloe vera stalks, learning how to use my new Kindle, writing a check to pay my VISA bill, throwing in a couple of loads of laundry, putting together a casserole for dinner, and hitting the plant nursery. Only then did I feel justified in joying a cup of tea and a reading a newly purchased book.
But one tired day later I’ve decided to take a step back. I think Mom might have overdone drilling me with that whole guilt-inducing, Protestant-work-ethic thing. It’s like being forbidden dessert until one’s plate is practically licked clean. Sometimes pie for breakfast is okay. Right? So I just wrote my list for today, and it includes “time in the spa”. Maybe it’s okay to work in a line item dedicated to recharging. Maybe. My very meticulous mother must be rolling over in her grave.
(swim skirt floating in spa)
Lynn Nicholas - AUTHOR oF Dancing Between The Beats
My blog is a window into my world. My slice-of-life narratives are triggered by life's