'Matter of Laugh or Death,' the award-winning humor column
By Bill Dunn
Interesting observations on this thing we call life
(appearing each week in the Republican-American newspaper, Waterbury, CT)
TO-DO LIST OBSESSION
Hi, my name is Bill, and I’m a to-do list-aholic. I am finally admitting that my life is out of control and unmanageable. The cause of all this chaos is an item which is suppose to provide, in theory, more control and manageability to one’s life: the to-do list.
At first, to-do lists were a good thing. Years ago I got into the habit of making a to-do list at work to help me organize tasks and avoid forgetting something crucial. Before using to-do lists, I’d often drive home in the evening and suddenly slap my forehead and yell, “Oh blank!! I forgot to return that guy’s phone call! Hmm…tomorrow feels like a sick day.” (On those occasions when I’d knock myself out with an especially vicious forehead slap while cruising down the Interstate at 60 mph, the odds of tomorrow being a legitimate sick day—or a legitimate intensive care unit day—were greatly increased.) So for a while, my employer, the guys awaiting my return phone call, and my forehead were all glad that I was using to-do lists.
But slowly and subtly the to-do lists stopped being tools to assist me in doing my job. Instead they became the job itself. I should have realized something was wrong when I started making multiple to-do lists. Each day I made a list of things to do by noon; things to do by the end of the day; things to do by the end of the week; phone calls to return; emails to write; thank you notes to send (always a blank list—after all, I’m a male); reports to run; and inter-office memos to write.
I had to remove the phone and computer from my office to clear enough desktop area to lay out all my to-do lists. Since many of the activities on the lists required a phone or computer, it should have been clear that trouble was brewing. But by that point I didn’t care. Doing the things on the to-do lists no longer mattered; making the to-do lists was my only concern.
The first two hours of each morning were spent making my master to-do list: a to-do list of all the to-do lists. Once I had my list of lists, I would spend the rest of the day carefully crafting each individual list. By 5 p.m. I was finished: twenty to-do lists neatly arranged on my desk. It was exhausting work, but at least I could drive home satisfied, basking in the pride of a job well done. The next morning I would come in and start the process all over again.
After a while, however, my boss noticed that my productivity had slipped somewhat (from about 60-percent efficiency down to zero-percent). He approached me and suggested that it might be useful if I actually did a few of the things on the lists. Oh great, just what I needed, more pressure.
My to-do lists now included items which were relatively easy to accomplish, so I could check them off with a red pen and appear productive. Some of these less-than-difficult tasks were: “Wake up,” “Eat breakfast,” “Think about to-do lists,” “Remember to breathe,” etc. At the end of the day I not only had a deskful of to-do lists, but dozens and dozens of big red check marks.
But I was only fooling myself. (For example, as everyone knows, you don’t have to remember to breathe, it happens automatically via a complex biological process known as…magic.) My boss noticed that my productivity was still hovering in the zero range, despite all the red check marks, and gave me a choice: no more to-do lists, or no more paychecks.
I truly wish to be cured of this obsession. But it won’t be easy. This is what I must do: 1. Admit I’m powerless over to-do lists. 2. Believe that a Power greater than myself can restore me to sanity. 3. Make a decision to turn my life over to—
Oh no! I’m doing it again!!
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