That is the question…
I interviewed Elizabeth Hurley many years ago and because she seemed super-organised, we touched on the art of list-making. But even she had to laugh when I revealed I sometimes make a list about what to put on my list.
A to-do list is the hook on which my life hangs. Do this. Do that. Do this first. Do this before EOP. Which all sounds highly proactive. Except I have a heap of things that languish at the bottom and would need carbon dating to pinpoint exactly how long they’ve been there.
I liken them to the items in my laundry basket that require hand-washing. That lay there for weeks, crushed by the day-to-day needs for fresh pants, socks, leggings and t-shirts. I still have a couple of muslin summer dresses at the lowest strata that need mending, so they’ll not see the light of day until Spring - the sartorial tulips of my linen box.
‘A to-do list is the hook on which my life hangs’
Thing is, when I look at the tasks that never get touched, ironically they’re quite important; update my will; re-roof the shed; sort the loft before it collapses. But they’re always passed over for ‘reply to yesterday’s emails’, which let’s face it, frequently include tasks from other people’s to-do lists, passed across like a red-hot rugby ball. The onus is then on you to carry that chore over the line. I try. But some mornings, when I open my eyes and think of all my own must-dos, I feel utterly overwhelmed.
Now, I could segue into writing a typical magazine piece, researching and reporting on more effective list-making, for example adding deadlines, batching similar tasks and breaking the complex ones down. I would likely talk about apps and psychological strategies. But I’m not going to do that…except to mention my mum’s salient advice concerning anything you don’t want to do: “It’s usually worse thinking about doing it than doing it”.
However, I’ve reached a point where plans for reorganising my to-do list are more radical (and I’m not talking bucket-list ideas like paddle a canoe up the Amazon). Having been so unwell with anxiety recently, at the top of mine now is to look after myself better, enlist some professional backup and stop bashing myself on the head with a giant air hammer for not being perfect.
‘I’m going to bring one big project to the top’
As for the pressing stuff, well yes, I may need to call IKEA about my Discombobulate desk or tell Natwest that Cora, the electronic helper, can’t seem to assist me. But I’ve realised this kind of stuff is never going away. In fact in the modern world, where the living is supposed to be easy, ticking off a task is akin to becoming the Sorcerer’s Apprentice – the action tends to generate two additional tasks.
Case in point: I type out an invoice and send. Tick. Four weeks later, the recipient can’t find said invoice. Please re-send. Tick. I receive thanks for the invoice but it needs to be sent as a PDF. Tick. Then I need to confirm I’m a sole trader and not on a par with Tesla. I hardly dare attend to this task for fear the next request will be, ‘Please come in and perform an audit of our accounts department’.
Of course, one has to do most of this boring stuff, but I’m going to start introducing lighter, brighter things such as ‘listen to the birds’ or ‘phone cousins I don’t speak to from one year to the next.’
I’m also going to bring one big project to the top. Something I’ve never started because I’ve been too busying turning invoices into PDFs or typing tips for magazines on trimming your bikini line. I’m going to write a book. A memoir that’s both poignant and funny, pivoting on ‘the familiar and the forgotten’, which is the beautiful way a reader called Rod poetically described my ‘60s column in the Telegraph.
Another thought… a very close friend who, along with my husband, has been looking after me while I’ve not been well, said rather than focussing on what I believe I’ve screwed up, make a list of everything I’ve achieved this year. She is, in my eyes, the ‘Oh Wise One’.
Dive, dive, dive
I’m thinking I could go further. Jot down experiences from way back too: survived school; studied for a degree; got the hang of posé turns in ballet; was invited on Lorraine Kelly’s show; met golden eagle hunters in Mongolia; did a dive in a submersible (thank you Viking Cruises); navigated my poor mum through dementia; got sacked from a job I hated; laughed so hard while reading a Bill Bryson book on the tube, the entire carriage stared at me. I could go on. And you could too.
So maybe that’s it. Alongside a to-do list, run a ‘Ta-Dah’ list. And every time you cross something boring off the first, add something interesting you’ve already done to the second. Wanna give it a go? Put it on your list.