“All work and all play,” they say


When I’m asked how I do it all, I wonder if all is probably assumed to include keeping a nice, neat house where I can find everything, and everything’s in its place. Unfortunately, good housekeeping is not part of my picture (although I still entertain high hopes). You know what they say about getting things done; just ask a busy person.
Robert Benchley, who wrote for The New Yorker years ago, worked out the secret of “how to get things done” in his essay by the same name. He stated: “The psychological principle is this: anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment.”
With five tasks staring him in the face on Monday morning, it is little wonder that Benchley “went right back to bed as soon as he’d had breakfast, in order to store up health and strength for the almost superhuman expenditure of energy that was to come.” Sounds plausible.
Here is where his “secret process” came in. “What do I have to do first?” he asked himself. Instead of starting on any number of tasks that he’d put off for some time, he put them last. He practiced a little deception on himself saying, “First, you must write that article for the newspaper.” (This sounds extremely familiar to me.) He said it out loud (being careful that nobody heard) and tried to fool himself into believing that he must do the article that day and that the other things could wait.
He went so far as to make out a list with “No. 1. Newspaper article” underlined in red. After everything was lined up on his list, he bounded out of bed to have lunch. Benchley believed “a good, heavy lunch with a glutinous dessert is good preparation for the day’s work as it keeps one from getting nervous and excitable. We workers must keep cool and calm, otherwise we would just throw away our time in jumping about and fidgeting.”
Next, he seated himself before his typewriter saying, “Get at the article!” Then, with a perfectly clear conscience, he progressively allowed himself to become immersed in every other task on the list accomplishing them all except the one he’d made the priority. (This, too, sounds extremely familiar.)
Falling prey to every imaginable distraction thrown in my path by my attention deficit disorder, I eventually coax myself to the keyboard. Now get at that column, Laurie, this is no way to start a new year!


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