After playing racquetball and eating dinner with Ben last week, I found myself with nothing to do for the evening. I pulled up my Stickies on my computer, but my green to-do sticky note was empty. My eyes drifted over to my procrastination list, and after rejecting any intensive reading, I decided to play “No One Lives Forever,” a PC shooter themed after a goofy, James Bond-style spy flick. I rebooted my computer into Windows and settled in for an evening of video games.
Playing it didn’t go so well. It’s a well-designed funny game, but I didn’t find myself enjoying it, and after a few minutes, I just quit the game and tried to figure out what else I wanted to do. I visualized my procrastination list and went through the items. Again rejecting all of the reading, I decided to instead chip away at a very long “Movies To Watch” list. I moved the coffee table in my living room out of the way and dragged the couch to 5 feet in front of the TV for Julie & Julia, the Nora Ephron dramedy. In my defense, I mostly wanted to watch the movie because it was about food.
I admit, however, that I enjoyed it far more than I would have just for the food. The acting was good, there were some laugh out loud moments, and I was engaged by Julie Powell’s plan to cook the 500-something recipes from Julia Childs’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year and blog about it. With a cooking blog myself (that I’m not ashamed to plug), I imagined how much fun it would be to have a project like that. Thinking through the whole year, though, I could never do that myself. Julie couldn’t have had time for anything other than her day job and this cooking project; what about the rest of her passions in life?
Julie had a single-mindedness that I have had a lot of difficulty finding. I fill my life with plans, like an activity tonight, dinner tomorrow night, a weekend trip a week from now, my class schedule a month from now, my living situation a year from now, and my life goals a decade from now. And my procrastination list fills the time in-between all of those events. Apparently, I even plan for when I don’t have plans.
The lists and planning are good, until they become the goals themselves. Lists can conveniently list things to get done, but in the end, the list is just the representation of the goal. I think there’s a small satisfaction in crossing off an item from a list, but that’s peripheral to the reason why it was on the list in the first place. For example, about 3 weeks from the end of the school year, I wrote down every academic commitment I had left. I was excited every time I could scratch off a line, and I even liked throwing the entire list in the trash. All of that, however, was a slow march towards graduation, another step to the big payoff.
Reviewing my procrastination list and how I treat it, I think I might be using it the wrong way. Once, the list was a memory aid for things I might enjoy, but when my focus turns to the list itself, I end up playing video games not for the fun they actually are, but for the goal of deleting that line out of my Stickie. If I finish that item, and the next item, and the next item, all the way to the end in the same fashion, I might successfully complete my procrastination list at some point, but I would have also missed the reason it exists a long time before.
So I have tossed a few lists, like my reading and video game lists, and trimmed a few, like my procrastination list and movie list. My friend RJ mentioned the other day that he had finished watching a TV show and was wondering what might be up next. If he can get by without a backlog, I think I’ll manage with only 3 TV shows to finish. I still need to offload some of my memory into a usable form.
In trimming these lists and plans for my life, I still don’t think I’ll find the same single-mindedness that Julie did in cooking through Mastering the Art of French Cooking, but I’m a step closer to relieving myself of the items on the backburners and throwing myself wholeheartedly into a yearlong project on a whim. On some level, even those 500-something recipes for her were put together as a plan in a list. I’m sure she had her share of breakdowns and moments of disillusionment, but I guess those are the moments to see through the plan for the goal behind it and figure out why the plan existed all along.
(Author’s Note: this post is a sliver of some bigger things I’ve been thinking about recently, and for awhile, this post was going to turn far more intense than either I’m comfortable with or what you likely care about. Even so, here are a few nuggets and insights into my writing process that didn’t make it into the final cut)
In some ways, plans are just like lists, too. I enjoy planning events and figuring out details. I also have panicked and fretted when plans don’t pan out, but often, things turn out fine anyways, and the only problem was worrying about the plan.
I should appreciate the fact that I have the capacity to be juggling the various things I’m doing at all times, but this mindset also means that I’m always juggling things. Since the end of my freshmen year, I have had no fewer than 2 jobs at any time and have been averaging more than that. I always think that things are going to get better soon, but because I believe that, I jump at the opportunity to be doing more, and things stay just about the same.
- I have my life in plans and lists
- I’m willing to finish things
- always have a backburner
- need to do less to do more
- get by without it all