Saturday, November 5

Yes, Virginia, Lists are Freakin' Awesome

Today's a good day. Why? Because I have a full day to kill, and tomorrow will be the same. I can do whatever the hell I want to for two days because I have to occupy my mind and hands while my wife's out of town or I will be ground into a paste with crushing depression. It's happened before, I know what I'm talking about.

One thing I do to escape this Indiana-Jones-style Incan deathtrap of malfunctioning neurochemistry is make lists. I'm terrible with keeping all my plates spinning of my own volition. Food will rot, clothes will pile up, and self will be unwashed and underfed. Once, a mouse crept behind my CD cabinet, got trapped somehow, died, and liquefied in its decomposition, creating a smell that bugged me for a week until I located its source. That may not be related to my disorganization but it's a good story, I think.

So I create to-do lists to remind me what needs doing. I come up with items all day long, as events warrant, and record them on Post-It notes, in my Moleskine date book or any of the three journals I maintain, or in a special little Moleskine reporter's notebook I keep in my winter jacket, if I happen to be outdoors when a good idea hits me. Every few days I assemble all these notes into one large to-do list and that night I begin to attack it.

Many of these items are actionable.
What people need to know about a good to-do list is that it should have too many items on it. That way, even if you only do half or even a third of all the items on that list, you still achieved a hell of a lot. There is a tremendous sense of accomplishment that comes with literally crossing off items on your personalized to-do list, even if those things are abstract or electronic and the only tangible result is a list of crossed-off items. It's fantastic, there's very little like it in the world. One starts to feel like a feasible adult when the list is done.

And it's okay if some of those list items are stupid. One of mine was to catch up to my wife with watching Parks and Recreation. Great show, but viewing it is hardly a life achievement. Still, I wanted to do it and currently I have some free time (see above) so I finished Season Two while filling out eight Postcrossing postcards destined for Germany, Russia, and Poland--strictly a coincidence. I'll note that I took care not to put apply the Ronald Reagan commemorative stamps on any postcard going to Russia. Don't want to pick at any scabs. So that's two items scratched off my list right there.

Next, I've joined NaNoWriMo and will begin hacking out one of the novels I have locked in my skull. I can also get caught up on my other writing pursuits and eliminate a couple more slots on my list. See how this goes? By tonight, I will feel a tremendous burden lifted off my shoulders, and a sense of freedom mixed with competence will infuse my chest cavity. And not a dime of discretionary funds will have been spent: this is all stuff I can do right here, in my apartment, with presently afforded resources and my mitts.

Lists might not be for everyone. Some people are organized on their own; other people can't read or write. But for me, this is a perfect solution for a long-term, persistent problem I find otherwise inescapable: life.

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