Note No. 55

March 4, 2010

I’ve gotten pretty good at To Do lists. This is after a phase of not using them at all. I had been a List Girl all my life and then, just like I suddenly stopped keeping obsessive track of each personal expense I made, I also stopped making daily lists of things to do, thinking I could remember everything to do on my own.

I can’t remember how long this rebellion lasted. A week? But it didn’t work. Of course. So I went back to lists but of the hastily written, in-the-next-10-minutes-you-need-to-go-to-the-store-and-call-the-electrician type. I am not sure what I was going for with that one. A passive approach?

So I started making these really complicated and impossibly long lists, which I never completed in a day, meaning I always had to transfer items from that day to the next, which is really a morale killer. Furthermore, because the list was so long, I figured out that I could do all the items on it that were relatively painless and leave the awful tasks for the next day. And the next day. And the next day.

But that would not stop me from glaring at those disdained duties through squinty, hate-filled eyes, apparently forgetting that the faster I did that abhorred chore, the faster I could stop looking at it. I did finally realize that, though. I think it occurred to me at about the same time that I read something about taking pleasure in everything we do. Even the not so fun stuff.

As soon as I made that little attitude adjustment, I at least stopped grimacing so much and I think I started making progress. Last week, for example, there was at least one occasion where I had done everything on the list by the end of the day.

And don’t you know it? Stephen R. Covey’s weekly list system has also had a hand in this transformation of mine. I have adopted my own version, which is actually nothing like his, but I begin writing it on Saturday and finish it on Monday. This list is divided into two columns, one for me and one for the people on whom I depend to do things for me, like the maintenance man and the electrician.

On My Side, I write everything that I know I need to do in those upcoming six days, like Ask Chris for Legs file or Pay myself. On Their Side, I put the name of the person and then the thing or things they need to do, like Fix neighbor’s manhole cover or Install manhole to our septic tank. And if I already know when any of these things need to happen, I write the day beside the item in red ink.

Then I have a two-day list. Today’s, for example, has a column for Thursday and a column for Friday. These two-day lists are inspired by my weekly lists, but with additional items that are spontaneous to those two days, such as Note No. 55 or Buy milk. The two-day list is superior to any one-day list, because you’re putting priority on some items today, scheduling others for tomorrow, which greatly increases your chances of getting everything done, thereby eliminating that sense of failure at not doing something one day and having to try again on another day.

That said, my weekly list for the past few months has included two recurring items, one of which is Email cleanse. According to some productivity gurus, to have a disorganized e-mail account is one of the fastest ways to let your life spiral out of control. Though the steps to get there may vary, these people all seem to agree on one thing: strive for an empty inbox. File those answered messages away or delete them, and do not keep unanswered ones lying around. Make a file specifically for that pending correspondence and check it often to make sure you are not letting something go for too long. But do something with all those new messages. Do something; do something; do something.

So I am trying to devote at least five minutes a day (Sundays optional) to whittling down my 1,092 messages that are currently in my Gmail inbox. And the 670 in my work account. And the 152 in Yahoo. Maybe I should have fewer e-mail accounts, too. But that’s for another day, when I also decide not to have two cell phones.

Now that I am getting so good at this To Do list thing, though, I cannot get this page from one of Seth Godin’s books out of my mind. And the author of this text, Gina Trapani, happens to be one of those gurus I just mentioned:

Getting things done is not the same as making things happen.
You can…
…reply to email.
…pay the bills.
…cross off to-do’s.
…fulfill your obligation.
…repeat what you heard.
…go with the flow.
…anticipate roadblocks.
…aim for “good enough.”
Or you can…
…organize a community.
…take a risk.
…set ambitious goals.
…give more than you take.
…change perceptions.
…forge a new path.
…create possibility.
…demand excellence.
Don’t worry too much about getting things done.
Make things happen.

So, I think I will be working on that one more in these next few months. But first, I’d better get my inboxes under control.

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