Where does the time go? At the beginning of the day (week, month, year), it seems like a huge void to put to use any way I please. At the end of the period, I turn around and see no progress. Why can’t I fill time in the way I want?
The problem is time’s limited. When I was young, I saw no end. It stretched limitless in front of me. I knew I always could make that trip to Paris sometime, if not this year. Now, from this end of the life span, time has no beginning but many endings.
There are things I should do with my time. My blog, for instance. When my first novel was published, the entire world told me I had to create a blog. Further advice from experts added the blog should appear at least twice a week and have at least two links to other websites in it. This is proving to be impossible as winter colds, summer vacations, reruns of HIMYM, playing with grandson, depression, house cleaning, going to the gym, naps, balancing the checkbook, in short anything else, takes precedence.
What time I do have, I spend most of it reading emails or trying to sleep. Guilt induces me to compensate by making lists of responsibilities or desires to work on eventually. The effect time has on my lists is zero. To wit:
My to-do lists don’t differ much now from when I was 18. Then they included:
Lose 15 pounds
Clean and organize closet
Now they include the same main topics but have increased in complexity:
Lose weight (o 5 pounds, o 10 pounds, o 15 pounds, o 20 pounds, o 25 pounds)
Study (o French, o Music self-taught on recorder, o Stimulating mind games)
Exercise (o Stretches, o Dance, o Jogging, o Bike)
Clean and organize (o Papers, o Photos, o Old magazines)
I always think if I just get organized enough, I should be able to cram 48 hours worth of activity into 24. I’ve never succeeded, although I’m known as ultra-efficient. My sister-in-law once told me I was the most organized person she knew. In a burst of insight, I realized the flaw in her statement. I’m the most disorganized person, but I’m so threatened by chaos, I frantically try to control it through creating order.
I have a fall-back position on this process. In a voice down the ages from five centuries ago, Francois Rabelais advised, “With Time, all things are revealed.”
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.