Saturday, December 5, 2009


I have, often, the attention span of a gnat. I admit to this failing. I have had it all my life and it has gotten worse with age. I will go from one room to another, intent on a task and in the 3 seconds it takes me to walk the 10 feet from point A to point B I have forgotten why I was going there. I know I went for something and, at least in my mind, something significant, so I stand and try to remember what I came for. Sometimes I must actually walk back to where I was and re-trace my actions for it to come to me. Pathetic, I know.

To counter this tendency, I make lists. I have made lists for years – since my Freshman year in college. While in High School, I had a built in list – my mother. She could always be counted on to remind me of what needed to be done or to ask what had or had not been done, thus accomplishing the same thing. Things got done.

Then I went to college a thousand miles from home and life became much more complex. There was no Mom to remind or ask. There was me – and only me. My roommates had their own lives and their own obligations. It took only a couple of instances of neglected assignments or forgotten tests or dates to make me realize that a system was necessary. Thus, the lists.

I love my lists. There’s something about them that is so secure. You write things down, you do those things, you cross them off your list. It’s reliable, it’s simple, and it’s oh so rewarding. Looking at that list of completed tasks and chores at the end of the day you see just where your time has been spent. It’s a concrete record of exactly what you have accomplished. It is proof of productivity. It is evidence of industry. I love my lists.

I also hate my lists. They stare at me from the counter or the desk, beckoning me. They remind – yes. They also taunt. They also accuse. There’s something so controlling about them – so rigid. They’re like that nagging voice in your head reminding you of your failings and shortcomings – look at all the work you didn’t get done, look how much you have left to do, look at all the things you should be doing instead of doing what you are. On a given day, the list can suck the life right out of you. I hate the lists.

The truth is the lists are, I suppose, the proverbial double-edged sword - like so many other things in life. The trick is perhaps not the list itself but in what you put on the list. It’s easy to fill the list with minutiae, with things that are perhaps immediate or even, seemingly, urgent but things that are maybe not so important. And in my enthusiasm for accomplishing the list, sometimes a whole lot of nothing gets done. So maybe the new goal is for an edited list and the discernment to be able to create one - one that contains what is important – and the recognition and acceptance that sometimes what is important takes a little longer to accomplish. Maybe the number of items checked off the list at the end of the day might be smaller, but hopefully they’ll be more significant.

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