Lockdown Jottings – 03

Tackling the to-do list

I do like a nice ‘to-do’ list.

When it comes to getting organised, there’s no better way to give meaning and structure to your plans for the day, week or month, than writing out a fresh new list laden with hope, expectation and good intentions.

Sometimes, I start a new to-do list just for the fun of it, cracking open my notebook at a crisp new page and carrying forward uncleared items from an earlier list onto a new one.

Creating a new list gives a renewed sense of purpose. It shows a determination to get things done! And that satisfaction obtained from ticking each item off as tasks are completed makes me feel that my day has been spent wisely; things have been accomplished!

I always write my to-do lists by hand – never on my laptop, tablet or phone. (It’s one of the few times I get to practise my handwriting these days.) But I’m a bit old-fashioned that way. (I also keep a pocket diary for my appointments. It’s a lot quicker to write things down and to see what’s coming up than logging on and opening some app or other. Trust me, I speak from experience of waiting for colleagues to do just that to see if they’re free to go for a drink, set up a meeting or come round for dinner.)

Anyway, this is supposed to be an article about the experience of lockdown, so let me return to my theme: procrastination in an age of lockdown.

I’m used to working to deadlines – nearly every piece of work I do has some sort of deadline attached to it, some immediate, others more relaxed. And, of course, I’ll have several things on my to-do list at any one time, each with its own deadline. As one piece of work is finished, I move on to the next. Keeping an up-to-date list of the things I have to do helps me to make sure I keep on top of things and meet the expected deadlines. My to-do list helps me to plan my working day. It gives it form and order: I might tackle some of the easier things first (quick wins!) simply because ticking things off the list early in the day gives a sense of achievement and progress being made but I can also keep track of the important things as well.

But in these lockdown days, the deadlines are fewer and even the ones which remain are less demanding. With so many meetings cancelled, the urgency has gone – and with it, if I’m honest, some of the motivation as well. Deadlines act as an incentive: they add urgency and impetus. They propel me forwards. With fewer deadlines, the get-up-and-go has got up and gone (it can’t have gone that far, though, given that no one’s allowed out).  

Don’t get me wrong: there are still things I must do, and I am doing them, just more slowly. I now have longer to do things and, because I’m no longer going out socially, my evenings are empty: I really do have more hours in the day. In a perfect example of Parkinson’s Law, the work to be done is expanding to fill the time available in which to do it.

Sometimes though, I just defer starting things on today’s to-do list to another day. Procrastination might be the thief of time, but there are books to read, TV programmes to watch, naps to be taken and red wine to be drunk – if not necessarily in that order.

If I tell you that I fully intended to write this item yesterday, I’m sure you’ll understand. Tomorrow, I shall write a new to-do list on a brand-new page in my notebook. I’m rather looking forward to it.

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