Keeping on track
By Patricia Baer
I watched “Prozac Nation” the other day, and it reminded me of one of my favorite lines. Christina Ricci’s character describes her mental deterioration happening “gradually and then suddenly.” I feel this is how I lose control of my project tasks when I find myself overcommitted or overwhelmed by something I have taken on, but as soon as I sit down and brainstorm a to-do list for myself the panic fades a little.
I need my hand-scribbled notes of tasks to keep me focused. It is a security blanket. By putting it all down on paper, everything seems more manageable, and I can see it there inked to a scrap of paper instead of working under of the added pressure of trying to contain it all in my head.
Or at least, it is manageable until it is not. In the past I would write down everything, down to “create next week’s to-do list,” that I could possibly need to complete ever. Sometimes I would even color code it in a calendar.
I would generate lengthy assignments for myself that were impossible to accomplish, and then I would chastise myself when I could not cross off every item from the list. It finally got to the point where I had to prove to myself it was an insane challenge by allotting estimated time amounts to each task, and that is when I realized one night’s work would have me to-doing away until 3 a.m.
The madness had to stop. I decided to go cold turkey from my lists. I would become a free spirit in a world of those shackled to their overbooked schedules. I would take care of what needed to be done in the order it popped into my head, and if that never happened, well, it must not have been too urgent anyway.
This was a terrible plan. At first, it felt like a vacation. I could relax at the end of a busy work day without feeling the pressure of that pesky list waiting for me at home, but as days passed I realized without that list I became a real slug.
Sure, things popped into my head, but they were thoughts like, “Check email,” “Watch TV,” or, “Surf internet for invention of Silly Putty.” By the end of the week, my dirty dishes had captured every inch of my counter space, I was receiving nagging text messages from my cell phone service about my soon-to-be past due bill, and my couch was developing a permanent indentation in the cushions.
Lesson learned. As with much in life, everything needs to be done in moderation. My to-do lists are a necessary evil that I cannot “do” without.