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Kelly: The dreaded to-do list

Published November 7, 2013 5:41 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Busy people of the world unite! That is, if you aren't too busy.

My column about how I find it almost impossible to get anything done brought a flood of mail from readers who find themselves similarly bedeviled by the never-ending accumulation of boring, irritating chores.

Eric Kulisch said it isn't the boring nature of his to-do list that keeps him from leaping into it. It's the fact that each item requires research.

"I can't just start painting or fixing something if I have a 1.5-hour window," Eric wrote. "I need a bigger block of time for planning, prep, and doing work. So when I have time to plan and work on projects, study investments (another thing that's fallen through the cracks) or educate myself on things that I'm not familiar with, then I can get things done. Otherwise, I fill up time with day-to-day things and keep plugging away."

Ron Isaksen borrowed a word from thermodynamics to describe the problem: entropy. "Entropy is a natural law which takes energy to overcome (my energy)," Ron wrote. "It is like we are floating on a sea of 'to-dos.' So I do what they told me in my lifesaving course: If you get tired or overwhelmed, float on your back. I feel as long as you can handle a bit of flotsam or jetsam you are doing okay — you are creating an edge over the entropy. It's when one gives up altogether that is the problem."

David Chalkley said I might find inspiration in an essay by Robert Benchley titled "How to Get Things Done." The same World Wide Web that lets me find old Count Chocula commercials helped me track it down. Here's an excerpt:

"The secret of my incredible energy and efficiency in getting work done is a simple one," Benchley wrote. "I have based it very deliberately on a well-known psychological principle and have refined it so that it is now almost too refined. I shall have to begin coarsening it up again pretty soon.

"The psychological principle is this: anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn't the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment."

Now there was a man ahead of his time.

Lori Cohen retired recently and said she is plumb out of excuses for why things aren't getting done around the house. She wrote: "How can weeks, then months go by, and I still can't get around to filing, looking for better insurance deals, or writing a will? Fortunately, I have always lived by this motto: I was put on this Earth to accomplish a certain number of things. Right now I am so far behind that I will never die."

Speaking of which, Sarah Partridge Watson said she and her sisters always started conversations with "I got a lot done today." Wrote Sarah: "Before my older sister died she told me she wanted the epitaph on her gravestone to read 'She got a lot done.' "

Retirement hasn't made it any easier for Patrick Lackey to get things done. "If anything, having all the time in the world makes us retired folks resent even a single chore that cannot be postponed or avoided - such as paying and mailing a bill," he wrote. "We feel constantly impinged upon.

"In a better world, everyone, on retirement, would be presented with a long list of life's tasks and allowed to mark which tasks to retire from and which ones to continue doing. Next to 'rake leaves' some would check the 'continue doing' box while others would mark the 'hell no' box. At the homes of the anti-leaf-raking retirees, teenagers would magically appear each fall to rake and bag fallen leaves for free. Then, at last, retirement would be worthy of its name."

Faced, like all of us, with things he just doesn't want to do, Patrick has a trick he uses to address particularly galling problems: "I pretend that the problem is someone else's, not mine, and that I'm merely helping a friend. Thus I can face the problem because it isn't mine. My method never works, but it seems as though it should."

Okay, everybody. Back to work.




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