Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Art of the List

I've rediscovered my love of the List.

Oh, I've always been a list-maker.  I make lists for everything--life goals, the grocery store, stuff the girls need in their backpacks, rules for fending off an attacker.  I also have a task app on my computer that allows me to record due dates and projects and the like, and that's an indispensable part of keeping the many moving parts of my life on track (sample items:  "finish grading policy analyses;" "change Nolie's eye appointment;" "turn in Science Communication review;" "make Sandy cape").  I let this task list function as my memory, and I'd be pretty screwed without it.

But I had stopped, for a while, making daily to-do lists.  Frankly, I found them tyrannical.  Long-time readers of this blog will know I have struggled to find balance with what "must" be done v. what I'd like to do, and when that gets too out of whack I get really cranky.  I've made some significant adjustments at work in this regard, but then, wouldn't you know it, my personal life up and changes and E. is now traveling every other nano-second.

Pesky change.

I've read twice recently about women (older women, actually, in retirement) who found contentment by starting their day with a hand-written schedule that they followed to the letter.  I'm not so interested in that, but I do like the idea of setting down my tasks for the day.

Unexpected side effect of taking up the daily List:  contentment.

The art of the List, for me, comes in when I add things that aren't really "have-to's" but "want-to's."  Adding "take a bath" and "do yoga" to "prep for class" and "re-read chapters 2 and 3 of Nelkin" makes me excited about the List as opposed to dreading it.  It also puts self-care on the same playing field as responding to students' emails.

And the List helps me to slay one of my fiercest dragons, the dragon of procrastination.  It's not that I'm lazy, mind you, but if there is, say, an e-stack of 28 papers in my inbox that need to be graded, I all of a sudden get very good at working on that article I've been neglecting for four weeks.  The List allows me to put "grade three papers" and then I get to "run three miles" or "check The Berry" and that feels really good.

It's important to make the day's List do-able.  Put a bunch of stuff on there you'll never accomplish in one sixteen-hour period and you'll just end up pissed and resentful.  Leave the mountainous tasks for the task list.  The task list should inform the daily List, but shouldn't be it.

And if something doesn't get done, okay.  It gets moved to another List.  But the Art is in listing things that you'll mostly be able to do, barring crises or unexpected upheavals.  In which case the List should get the boot.

I feel better.  I feel happier.  Like things are more balanced, and I'm actually accomplishing things rather than just fighting against the flood of things that always have to be done.  I can be present with the task at hand rather than fretting over what else remains to be done.  The List has gotten me out of my hole of resentment, my existential questioning of what I should be doing with my life, my procrastination, and my feeling of always being underwater.

Thank you, List.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, I am learning to make this sort of list as well. But mine has been more of a weekly list. "Accomplish X by this date." And I have actually been achieving instead of feeling overwhelmed.