By Raymond Lesser
How do things rise to the top of the to-do list, meaning how do I decide what I’m going to do RIGHT NOW!
I’m in the middle of my morning yoga routine when I notice that the right window shade is hanging down about four inches below where the other two are. It’s blocking out my view of the tops of the trees and sky. It’s probably been like that for weeks but it’s never bothered me before but all of a sudden I can’t stand the asymmetry. I can’t focus on my next yoga posture. All I can think of is this misaligned window shade blocking my view of the world. I stare at it and realize I know exactly what I need to do to fix it, and think “I have so many things to do today, I’ll add that to my to-do list of fix-it projects around the house, but of course now I’m completely obsessed with this damn shade, and the only thing to do is to fix it RIGHT NOW!
I tell myself it’ll only take a minute. This is a very old window shade, actually called a window quilt, where you pull on a cord which winds around a pulley which pulls up the shade, but I’ve fixed these things a hundred times before. I stop my yoga routine, go over and unhook the shade from the metal attachments and try to wrap a couple more turns of cord around the pulley so that it will pull all the way up but it’s jammed. Now I’m holding this apparatus above my head, standing on my tiptoes to keep it from falling. It’s a whole new yoga stretch, the “Keep the Sky from Falling on Your Head” posture. I need a step ladder. But where is the step ladder? One thing leads to another and a half hour later I have fixed the window shade!
But now everything in my planned schedule is a half hour off. I imagine if I were a doctor all the impatient patients waiting in the waiting room, looking at their watches, hassling my receptionist about when their appointment, which they came fifteen minutes early for, as instructed, will finally commence. But fortunately I am not a doctor, not only because I can’t stand people complaining to me about their aches and pains but more importantly because I hate sticking to a fixed schedule. When my schedule does change, I want to be the one who changes it.
But in the real world that is most often not how things work. Your kid comes in with a bloody nose or a squirming salamander that must be attended to immediately. Your spouse says you must go to the store to pick up a dozen eggs right now, because she’s in the middle of four recipes and has eight things in the oven or on the stove, and you ate the eggs she told you she was saving, and when was the last time you cooked dinner for her, anyway? Some random guy rings the doorbell and is holding a dog and says he was driving by and saw it wandering in the street in front of your house, and is it your dog? No, it’s not your dog, but you know it’s the Jacksons’ dog, and you know the Jacksons’ are not home and even though you’re allergic to dogs you can’t very well send this good samaritan to knock on their door and get no answer and then do what, take the dog to the pound? If the Jacksons find out you did that they might never lend you their rototiller again. On the other hand, how badly do you really need that rototiller? But you shake off that thought and do the right thing, which makes you start sneezing almost immediately, which really messes up your schedule because instead of making phone calls to prospective clients all afternoon, you will spend it blowing your nose, and running out of Kleenex, and searching everywhere in the house for more Kleenex while playing fetch with Bobo Jackson.
When the day is done I look at the list of things that I thought I might get to and cross off everything that I actually managed to do (refilled the soap container in the bathroom) and add all the things that I promised to do at some unspecified date in the future (did I really say I’d take the grandchildren to a toy store the week before the holidays?) What I’ve come to realize is that a to-do list or a schedule are really more like suggestion boxes. If by some miracle my day doesn’t fill up with a series of unexpected opportunities, and serendipitous encounters I can always refer to what else I could be doing instead of the utmost important job of … wait, my phone’s ringing. I’ve got to answer this. “Hello. You what?… You’re where?… No, you can’t unplug that or the whole heating system will stop working!… OK, OK, I’m coming RIGHT NOW!”Read the Dec 2023 Issue Online