Score! I just crossed something off my to-do list. I can put a black line straight through “consume entire package of M&M’s before breakfast.” Done!
OK, so I cheated. I put that candy on the list after I’d eaten it just so I could check it off. My only defense is that I needed the jump start. My list is starting to get the better of me.
Lingering. There it is every morning, growing almost on its own. Items not checked off one day move inexorably to the next, and then to the day after that until everyone involved – me, the list, the chore itself – knows the tasks in question may never be completed.
They remain listed only for show, similar to the weight on my driver’s license, which anyone with an ounce of sense can see is an outright lie. They are like a haunting, but by dry cleaning and groceries rather than actual spirits.
A well-kept list can actually do you wrong. Every day for nearly three weeks I put “call dentist” at the top of mine. It’s so familiar now, I’m like, “Yeah, yeah, call dentist.” It’s lost all power over me.
Necessary. On the other hand, I could stop keeping a list altogether, but without a list, how am I supposed to know what obligations I’m shirking?
Better still, in an odd way, even if I ignore my list, having one creates a sense of achievement. Simply writing a to-be-done task down feels like I’ve already accomplished something.
The list is also a great equalizer. It doesn’t know that “complete taxes” is harder than “need bread.” No, the list rewards each completed item the same way – with a firm cross-off. It’s all on the honor system and you get to grade yourself.
Of course, if I was being really honest with myself I’d realize that the shampoo and the dental appointments and, yes, even the almighty dog grooming will happen with or without a list eventually.
Reality. Also if I were being honest with myself, my list would not look like this:
“Write grandparents a nice, chatty note; make dental appointment for the dog and grooming for husband or, er, wait, the other way around; birthday present for cousin’s baby, and RSVP to same; call electric company about outrageous bill – surely we must have an electrical leak somewhere?”
What my list SHOULD say is: “Worry about something over which I have no control; completely ignore something over which I do have control but am taking no action to change; obsess about weight, hair, complexion or other shallow, self-centered things; study Pottery Barn catalog for the meaning of life; complain about whatever; write column.”
Of course, that last one has to be done, which is how I end up writing about my to-do list.
Switch. The solution is so obvious I cannot believe no one has noticed it before.
I don’t know if you’ve ever looked at anyone else’s list, but I have, and the most telling thing is this: Items that haunt the list’s owner for weeks could be knocked off by a stranger in a few minutes.
Stop in a pet store and get dog shampoo? No problem. Run into the mall and pick up a cute, little sweater? Done! Call electric company and complain about most recent HUGELY outrageous bill? My pleasure!
I propose a regularly scheduled list-switch day. You schedule my dog grooming and I’ll call your plumber. We’ll both put these on our lists and we’ll get right on it.
Or, you know, wait until next time we switch our lists and get our own tasks back again!
(Kymberly Foster Seabolt is a recovering list addict. She welcomes comments c/o firstname.lastname@example.org; P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460; or http://userweb.epohi.com/~kseabolt.)
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