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To do

"any system that lets you wallow in the fantasy that one day you’ll get it all done isn’t just useless but dangerous, lulling you into frittering away your time." Oliver Burkeman/The Guardian

Having now read a few almost learned articles on to do lists, I have decided that my 'to do' lists are actually designed to help me fritter away my time. Which also made me ponder on whether this is a bad thing or not? The time I have left is shrinking, so why can't I fritter it away? Well mostly because there's not much of it so it should be used wisely. What is wisely though? Why can't enjoying oneself be enough?

I have three kinds of 'to do' lists. The first is at the beginning of all of my diaries - I still have a paper diary and don't use an electronic one. Well I'm old. That list contains my new year's resolutions, which I tend to write at the beginning of the year and then do not look at again until the year's end. As a result most of these don't get done. Indeed I have just checked this year's list and found that I have already failed on at least one - 'dine out locally at least once a month'. Two months have passed and we still have not done that.

Some of these resolutions are pretty trivial - "keep doing the vegetarian, fish, legume and guru new recipe" thing. Well this particular resolution is really a way of stopping me being bored and a way of organising what I cook for dinner when I have run out of inspiration. I rarely achieve all of these little aims, but it doesn't really upset me that I don't. Mind you it allows me to tick them off if they are achieved. Which gives me a silly sense of achievement.

Some of them are a little more serious like the dining out one, because they are designed, if that's the right word, to make life a tiny bit more interesting and, more importantly creating dedicated 'together' time with David. Today's married couples have date nights - we never did that. Not when married anyway. Another one is 'watch weight' which is on the list because I know I do that anyway so it will give me some satisfaction to say that I achieved it. "Clean up my computer". Yes - that might get done, but then again it might not.

The really serious ones, probably will not get done - 'DECLUTTER'. This one was in capital letters to stress its importance. It's related to another important one - 'Find a new home or get help for the garden.' We need to downsize or at least get paid help for the things that both of us find increasingly difficult. We are after all in the fortunate position of being able to pay somebody, although the 'frugal heritage' thing has a tendency to prevent progress on this. Ditto the new home. Whether we move or die we definitely need to declutter. Which is really too huge a task. I fear for my children who will probably have to do it, and I also fear that they will just throw out everything, when there might be things of value - monetary and sentimental which would then be lost forever. But proper decluttering is basically unachievable in fact. Even if I do it and retain the monetary and sentimental it doesn't guarantee that they won't disappear when I'm gone anyway. And so it should be broken down into little bits - eating the elephant. A room a month perhaps?

My second kind of 'to do' lists are those little tasks listed every week in my diary and waiting for a tick to make me feel good, or the kitchen shopping list on my blackboard - so satisfying to wipe them off when bought. But:

"it’s hugely tempting to plough through inessential tasks, just to cross them off." Mark Forster

Yes it is, and in my defence I would ask what's wrong with getting a little bit of satisfaction around a task completed every now and then? Maybe the real temptation is to find new things to add to the list - more potential ticks, (and more potential disappointments too). I actually found one website - The Cut - which had a few ideas for new things to add - they were talking about how to prevent boredom - around food - "Try to re-create your favourite restaurant meal; Try a TikTok cooking hack; Soak some dry beans.". They were quite interesting to me. Should I add them to my list of blog ideas, or occasional projects? Should any of them be more regular than that? Or should they just be a one-off thing? But this, of course, is how you end up with an enormously long list - and the more likely than ever possibility of setback and depression when nothing is achieved.

The experts of course all have their own solutions to this. The main one, which actually doesn't apply to me, is keep these lists off your digital devices because if your lists are online somewhere, they tend to disappear.

"there is stuff we no longer need to remember, because we can save it somewhere. So instead, we have to figure out how to locate and retrieve it – this is a different way of remembering than if we just have it stored in our brains,” Professor Andy Miah

Or on a piece of paper. So write your aims down on your paper list - clean up your devices and stick to paper.

“The 1-3-5” approach, (try to achieve one big thing, three medium things, and five small things per day)" Hannah Marriott/The Guardian

And there are variations on this. Sounds sensible and a bit, dare I say, management like?

Perhaps a more interesting version of this is the Done List, on which, at the end of the day you write down all the things that you have achieved which is a somewhat more positive way of looking at the world. Maybe I should try it. I have another diary in the kitchen with a space for notes at the end of the week. Maybe I should try a weekly analysis of my achievements. I don't think it would take much time. Although:

"reflecting on the things you’ve done will give you an occasion to step off of the treadmill and feel satisfied for a moment before you get back on to face everything you haven’t done yet." L. V. Anderson/Slate

And you should write them down, not just reflect because then, when you are perhaps feeling down and a failure one day you can look back at all the things that you have achieved and give yourself a big tick and a happy stamp.

"Keeping track of what you do makes you feel productive, which makes you feel happy and energized, which translates into more productivity going forward. “The simple act of writing down and keeping track of what you accomplish is motivating and illuminating,”" L. V. Anderson/Slate and Janet Choi and Walter Chen

My last kind of to do list is in my head. All those vague life aims, the things that might make you a better person. The 'I will not lose my temper so often' kind of thing. These are not practical doable kinds of things. They are vague and unspecific and yes - unachievable. But we should indeed have them, for shouldn't we always be trying to be a better version of the one who exists in the everyday?

“The most successful members of society spend less time on the mundane, and more on the inspiring, comforting and rewarding things in life,” Daniel J. Levitin

I wonder what he means by successful?

Some to dos do not need to be listed of course. Cook the dinner might be one, although there are always ways around that. You could go out, it might be a fasting day, you could get your other half, or somebody else to cook it for you, you could get a takeaway. However, when it comes down to it they are all just different ways of the 'to do' 'feed yourself at the end of the day'. Maybe we should question even these fundamental tasks - or at least find more interesting ways of doing them, which I guess is what I spend the majority of my time doing in one way or another.

It's creative though and on that list on the The Cut with its suggestions for combatting boredom, the writers saw creativity as one of the main areas in our lives in which boredom could be tackled. The others were Entertainment, Relaxing, Delicious and Productive. So even for them food was an important area to tackle. I'll leave you with something from their Creativity list which made me think a bit:

"Write letters. As a kid, there was absolutely nothing more exciting than getting a letter in the mail from a pen pal. Why do we let time change us? Why do we let age rob us of our youthful sense of wonder? Send a letter to a friend. Maybe they’ll write back!" The Cut

Add it to your 'to do' list, because emails will disappear.

And now can give a tick to my 'write 6 blogs this week' 'to do'. Sometimes satisfying, sometimes not - it depends on the quality.


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Feb 21
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What to do, what to do is an endless task with no beginning and no end

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