HUMOR – To-do List or Not To-do List

I used to add tasks to my to-do list even if they’d only take a few minutes to accomplish just for the joy of crossing them off. For example, along with “finish column,” and “reconcile bank statement” my to-do list might include “hang up your coat” or “pick up dirty sock that’s been laying on the bedroom floor for three days.”

It took longer to write some tasks than it would have taken to do them. The result was I spent more time making my to-do list than actually doing anything. Worse, a very long list makes me feel overwhelmed—even if it just contains tasks like “hang up your coat” and “pick up dirty sock.” And when I feel overwhelmed, I have to go lie down.

Then I received some good advice: If a particular task would take 10 minutes or less, don’t add it to your to-do list; just do it at that moment. I’m not sure who said it, but I suspect it was someone who witnessed me writing “put stamp on letter” or “tie shoes” on my to-do list.

I would say that little bit of wisdom has turned me into an organized and productive person, but I hate to lie this early in a column. At least the dirty sock is in the hamper and my coat is in the closet. The four-foot stack of filing I had on top of the filing cabinet is, well, still four feet tall because it would take a lot longer than 10 minutes to file it all. But once I get it taken care of, it will never get that high again because it only takes a few minutes to file one item—if I can find the file folder it goes in. I’ve spent upwards of two hours looking for them in the past.

Most amazing of all, my email inbox is empty at the end of each day. Or at least, most days. Or at least more days than it used to be because that was none. I used to put off certain messages because I thought the sender deserved a thoughtful, eloquent response. So instead of responding, I’d write on my to-do list something like, “Send a thoughtful, eloquent email to Susan thanking her for the kind invitation to her party and telling her that it sounds fun but I won’t be able to attend because I will be out of town that day.”

Eventually, time would run out and I’d be forced to answer in a less than eloquent way. For example, “Hi, Susan! Sorry I missed your party. How was it?”  Now I forget eloquence and just answer the email because, while it may not sound pretty, it will be on time.

The 10-minute-or-less rule does have some drawbacks, besides the fact that I don’t always bother to follow it. For one thing, I don’t get to cross as many tasks off my to-do list and I really miss that. Why do something if you’re not even going to get credit for it?

The other problem is that I occasionally underestimate how long a task will take. For example, I thought I could sweep the kitchen in five minutes, but it took me 20 minutes to find the broom. I thought it would take ten minutes to throw in a load of laundry, but it took an hour and a half because I had to run to the store to get detergent and while I was there I thought I should grab a few other things. And I thought I could take a 10-minute nap, but I woke up two hours later. If I’d known it was going to take that long, I would have put it on my to-do list.

Dorothy Rosby is an author and humor columnist whose work appears regularly in publications in the West and Midwest. You can subscribe to her blog at www.dorothyrosby.com or contact at www.dorothyrosby.com/contact.