I like to think of myself as a happy-go-lucky kind of gal, spontaneous and full of fun, up for any excitement, flexible, inventive, turn-on-a-dime and ready to go. It’s a vibrant and dynamic way to be, to be always poised for something good and ready to take advantage of it; it’s the way I want to be. It’s a way I try to be, and in my off time, on a weekend when the hours stretch ahead lazily like a cat, it is both a good way to be and something I am good at. Let’s go take over the world! I shout. And we do. Sometimes we stay in a dark room and play EverQuest, but that’s okay too.

As it turns out, however, I’m not always good at it. When I am faced with many tasks all of them due at once, sometimes all of them due at once three days ago or before I was born, all of them huge, all of them daunting, all of them starting to throb and throw up steam and tick like they are going to explode if I don’t attend to them immediately, with some slightly less-urgent but no less important tasks scrabbling in between, making impatient squawking noises and spinning round like whirligigs, I shut down. I completely and utterly close up, close off, turn my back and lower my head (probably so they won’t notice me slinking away) and I ditch, if I give myself half a chance.

The only way to stop it, to rein myself in, to keep myself from running until I hit the edge of the world and go plummeting over, my eyes wide and full of stars and my heart full of relief that I will never have to meet a deadline ever again, is to make an extensive, exhaustive, comprehensive to-do list. And by extensive, exhaustive and comprehensive, I mean “schedule ever single moment of the day, all the way through bedtime.” It’s not a list of items in any order as they occur to me, which I can check off as I complete it–no, it is a schedule, an itinerary, a list of commands from me to me, and somehow I almost always manage to obey.

It’s embarrassing, though–I used to have to write “wake up at 7; breakfast; take vitamins; take crazy pill; start chapter 4; upload; start chapter 5;etcetera, etcetera .” Eventually, I could leave off the “wake up at 7” as understood. Eventually. If I leave off the vitamins, the crazy pill, the breakfast, it is 1 in the morning and I haven’t eaten for days and the cat starts to appear to me as a succulent turkey. The to-do list is vital, it is essential, it is, I know for a fact, now, non-negotiable.

Yesterday, I slept over at E’s, got a slightly late start, decided to check a few things and hang out with the dog for awhile before I went home and started my to-do list, and by 11 p.m., I was disheveled,unshowered , starving, wild-eyed, and had accomplished nothing at all, all day. I have so much to do, so little time in which to do it, so many projects that are so important and had been so carefully broken down into their component steps and mapped out for accomplishing in good time all through the future up until then. Up until then, I had sat down the night before and sketched out the next day. The night before yesterday I skipped that step, and now I am a day behind and feeling every one of those hours, coated in guilt and spiky self-recrimination, neither of which is delicious and chocolate-coated.

I would like to think I just need to sort out my very complicated head, get everything on paper as a way of visualizing my tasks and making my responsibilities concrete, but what I really need is to be taken by the hand and guided down the path of justice. What I need is someone standing over me at every moment, telling me exactly what I need to do, what I am doing, and what comes next, even if that person is just the me in my head that sits behind my eyes and leans on the horn a lot and sighs and throws up her hands and wishes desperately she chain smoked. And that’s fine. If that’s what I need to do, even if it is embarrassing and part of me really wishes I didn’t have to, I’ll do it. And then I’ll to-do it.

photo © Susie Ghahremani / boygirlparty ®, awesome to-do list that makes any chore less sucky for sale at etsy.

11 Replies to “not-done”

  1. I am the SAME WAY. Although I only occasionally include a wake time, breakfast, shower, and other seemingly obvious steps are always included when I’m making the Overwhelmed & Overstimulated To-Do List.

    If it works for you, it works for you.

    And I worship Susie Ghahremani. I want to BE one of her owls.

  2. When I was 13, I refused to write anything down in my stupid planner thing I got in school. I staunchly continued to refuse, refusal which has lasted through today. I write HW assignments in the appropriate notebook margins around the doodles.

    I think the only time I make lists is for trips. I have no idea where the negativity comes from, but I HATE writing things down for myself. My mom and grandma do it all the time, though. Maybe writing lists come with maturity and wisdom…

  3. I’m not a list maker but somedays I wonder if I should be. Maybe i’d be more productive. I’ve tried to make lists in the past, but I find that even after the most detailed ‘to do’ list, I never check it.

  4. I make liberal use of the reminder alarms on my cell phone, which is never more then three feet from my body at any given time. I have them set for three times a day for my vitamins, twice a week to change the cat litter, once a week to do my tutoring prep, etc. All social engagements go in a little calendar in my purse and anything work related goes into my Outlook, with, of course, pop-up reminders.

    I’m known as the sort of person who will always remember your birthday and that sort of thing, but I’m totally not. I’m just good about setting myself notes because I know I’ll forget in three seconds.

  5. I’m the same way, too. I’m reluctant to make schedules because when something throws me off I have an anxiety attack, and then I’m crippled with indecision for the rest of the day. Right now I’m trying to do without the to do’s, and just go with the flow. It’s much less stressful, and I’m still managing to be productive. But it’s early yet. We’ll see how it goes.

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