How to Get Organized and Disorganized

I’ve been a list-maker since childhood, and the holidays reinforce that character trait. Lists of gifts to give people, tasks to be accomplished, Christmas card recipients, presents I might like. But I’m beginning to realize that lists don’t necessarily make me more efficient. Rather, they force me to feel guilty. I’ve never been successful in crossing off every item on a list. In fact, the to-do’s seem to increase faster than the now-dones.

When I had a regular full-time job, my lists covered pages. I usually had one sheet per major project with sub- and sub-sub headings. Then, of course, I had the lists for home duties and the ones for other activities and writing. I experimented with keeping lists on paper, on a Palm Pilot when I still had one, on computer. Lists in various colors depending on type of task or in specially constructed tables and addenda to tables.

Since I stopped working for anyone other than myself, my lists have shrunk. But they still exist. Right now, I have four lists in my bag:
1. Items to learn about so I can use my tablet better.
2. Very old things I’m researching about publications or major household needs like photographing home valuables for insurance purposes.
3. Immediate needs, like finding a furnace maintenance business.
4. Kind of in between long- and short-term chores, like update my website and get the venetian blinds cleaned.

But then there are the immediate, don’t-forget-these-under-any-circumstances, such as birthday cards. These appear in my pocket calendar. And lists for special projects—marketing my fiction and organizing a volunteer effort.

I think list-making helps me feel I’m creating order out of chaos. If an item or task appears on a list, I don’t worry about forgetting it, and I can tell myself I’ll get to it eventually. Which I don’t necessarily. Hence, the guilt.

No reason to feel guilty if I apply one condition. The trick to controlling lists? IF YOU WAIT LONG ENOUGH, MANY OF THOSE LITTLE NOTES TO YOURSELF ARE OUT OF DATE AND YOU CAN THROW THEM AWAY. An example. Over months, I tracked down a writer whose work I admire, intending to send her a message. However, she’s quite elderly. If I wait long enough, she’ll pass away, and I won’t need to get in touch with her! Another example—transplanting herbs at the end of summer. I waited until the first freeze, which destroyed the herbs, and I now can drop that item!

Try applying this technique to your own lists and see if it helps you control them.


East, West, Home Is Best, But Where?

When I walk to the Y to exercise, I sometimes pass people on a corner next to a church. By and large male, they are also scruffy, stinky, poorly dressed. They block the sidewalk with their duffels, backpacks, bikes, grocery carts. They gather on this particular corner because the church distributes free sandwiches at lunch. These are the homeless in Denver, but they could be anywhere (

My initial feeling whenever I pass, or try to pass, is one of annoyance, for they block access to the sidewalk, spill over to the parking strip, perch on stairs, walls and courtyards, blow cigarette smoke hither and yon. Some have dogs as mangy as themselves, many tote items that should be in junkyards—a frayed and torn sleeping bag, a shower head, a battered water jug, rope, a small ironing board. I wonder why the church officials or city authorities don’t demand compliance with public nuisance ordinances or common courtesy.

Then I question when and how I moved from sympathy or even mere apathy to hostility. These are people with no roof over their heads, few resources for health care or decent food, little access to opportunities for learning and entertainment. They don’t ask me for money or any sort of help. All I have to do is side-step them.

I don’t categorize myself as a “bootstrapper,” those who claim the homeless should just pull themselves up by their bootstraps, as if they even had boots with straps on them. Perhaps I’m getting numb to social problems. Perhaps I’ve seen too many programs to help the indigent and ill that fail, or I’ve listened to too many leaders claim they have the solution, and that never happens. Perhaps I’m tired of even thinking about the issue of homelessness. Perhaps I’m sick to my stomach at the thought that a country as blessed as this one cannot and will not care for those who can’t manage on their own.

As I sit in my home and consider, I realize what I feel is remorse that I can’t fix the problem. When I pass a homeless person, I can’t avoid the collective guilt we all share, whether we admit this or not. So I choose to be annoyed, not accountable.

(One group trying to do something is the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless,