The Stack

I’m a master of giving myself too much to do.

Back in the the day, when my to-do lists were more autocratic, before they became a dialog, I used to draw up schedules that planned my life down to five-minute intervals. Not that I actually followed these schedules: they usually lasted about two or three hours before something went awry and I never picked them up again. But I tried. I dreamed of them working. And for a long time, I felt guilty for not making them work through sheer force of will.

Last winter, I latched on to a new idea: a daily point system. Basically, I earned points any time I did one of a list of a dozen or so activities. The goal was to accumulate at least four points in a day. My record was eight.

Not that I could ever maintain that. In fact, after every hyper-productive day I usually had one or two super unproductive days to balance things out. As a way of measuring productivity, it had some merits, but it definitely stressed variety over endurance in any particular task. The goal was to do many small things consistently over a long period of time, rather than binge on one thing sporadically.

I ascribe to this work ethic, generally speaking. Over a long period of time, small, consistent efforts yield huge gains. I wrote the rough draft to my first (and so far only) novel this way: 250 words, every day, for 15 months. The writing sucks, but hey: I got a rough draft done.

The great flaw to this plan lies in the deceptive way you can pile on too many repeated tasks. A daily commitment of ten minutes is a huge commitment, if you have to do it every day. I mean, most of us can’t even dedicate half that time to flossing our teeth.

Whilst in Austria, I compiled up a huge list of daily to-dos: writing, reading, writing of a different sort, reading of a different sort, my regular job, working out, practicing my German, practicing my Russian, learning Spanish (because you can never have too many languages, RIGHT?!?!?!!!!!), drawing, sewing, maintaining healthy, stable social relationships…

The reality, of course, is that in order to accomplish all this, I wake up in the morning with a stack of things I have to do even before I start work. (I had a month back toward the beginning of the year when I tried to wake up at 5am to get it all done. That didn’t last.) The stack, in and of itself, is so daunting that I rarely even start.

Part of me knows that the stack is an illusion: the type of perfect-world goals we set for ourselves in moments of manic possibility, when nothing is ever too much and everything can be accomplished.

But most of me cannot let go to that dream. The fantastic possibility of waking up the next morning and making everything I’ve ever wanted of myself come true.

I have no solution for this. Perhaps you do?

 

3 Replies to “The Stack”

  1. This sounds very familiar. The getting up at 5am thing works for short periods when you have a specific deadline but not for routine life. Essentialism by Greg Keown I have found helpful. Get clear on what is most important to you and cut the rest. It is hard when one wants to do so many things in life.

    Doing a little bit of something every day really is amazingly effective. And you get the dopamine hit from ticking it off your list. Google’s new “Goal” feature on their calendar app is quite handy.

    Like

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