To Do and To Be

My to-do list is so long that it paralyzes me. Currently clocking in at nine pages with a standard font size, it is feeling just a bit unwieldy. I have found a great insight into the uselessness of this device of mine in the book Getting Things Done. David Allen has pinpointed with depressing accuracy just how fluid a day and its tasks are, at the office or at home, with the simple statement “Our jobs keep changing.” Would that life were so predictable and manageable that a dogged determination to work systematically through a daunting list were enough. On any given day, my to-do list is obsolete within ten to thirty minutes of its creation, which is why I rarely print it now. Further, each new errand or phone call seems more often than not to generate a new set of related tasks that need to be tracked and accomplished, rather than giving me something to cross off.

The list has become so long because each day I “accomplish” about one-third of a page’s worth of tasks and – if I’m very lucky – only that much again has been generated to take its place. Each day, with the credulity of a child, I convince myself that there is a purpose in attempting to work my way through the list again and, like that great mythical and metaphorical loser, Sisyphus, I watch the stone I have so laboriously worked up the hill roll heavily back down each evening. Only the sheer magnitude and bulk of my stubbornness has kept the game going this long. Really, though, there isn’t a way I can currently see around trying to keep track of the large and small facets of all our lives and waiting for the “big break” that will allow the list to get smaller instead of bigger.

The larger frustration that hovers in the background of all this daily irritation and sense of purposelessness is that I really feel it is so much more important to keep a “To Be” list ever at hand, one that reminds me of the kind of person I want my children to describe me as in the first chapters of their autobiographies: “As busy as my mother was, she never lost her sense of playfulness, her warmth, her passion for us, and her deep commitment to the sacred.” I have toyed many times with creating a category on my to-do list (which is already awash in unwieldy categories) for “Qualities to Exhibit” or “Attitudes to Adopt.” Occasionally, I do manage to slow myself down and look at who I’m being and not what I’m doing, but the proportions are way off. If I don’t let it sink in soon that the to-do list is a hydra that will always be threatening to grow more heads, I will find myself at the end of this journey exactly where I started, and none the wiser.

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