Dealing with shit

As someone who might be classed as catastrophically disorganised, I have to make a conscious effort to put various systems in place to ensure, not only that I organise myself, but so that I actually do things.

One of these systems (which has recently become a regular feature of day-to-day living) is to write a list of things I need to do that day. This list is designed to motivate (and remind me) to actually do all of the shit I need to do in order to qualify in having some sort of  productive and functional existence. Sometimes there’s quite a lot of shit to do. Sometimes shit has built up over time – shit is carried over from phases of depressive apathy where I do nothing but sit around eating cake and watching cop shows. Sometimes there’s so much shit to do, I don’t know what shitty job to start with first. When this amount of shit has mounted up, one of two things happens: 1) I feel overwhelmed by the amount of shit to do (and retreat into a depressive, apathetic state of lethargy and ‘meh’) or 2) I get all proactive on myself and write a list. As the former reaction merely adds more shitty jobs to the pile, I try to be more proactive in my approach to dealing with shit.

Please consult the following complex mathematical equation which will go some way to explaining this logic further:

Reaction #1

depressive state of apathy

Reaction #2

feelings of self-worth

So now I stick religiously to lists. I can’t live without a good list. I have lists for everything. I have lists for my shitty jobs, I have lists for my non-shitty jobs, I have lists for the supermarket shop, I have lists for things that in no way require a list. Despite the fact that there are a multitude of things which simply do not need to be put on a list, I will place them on one anyway – the more things I have on a list, the better. Because the truth is; without a list things tend to, sort of, not happen. At all. In fact, without a list, shitty jobs or supermarket items, or whatever will cease to exist. Due to relying on my impeccable list system for while now, my brain has become really quite dependant – to the point where it simply fails to acknowledge that something needs doing, or buying or fixing (and so on) if it hasn’t been written on a list.

This is a slightly worrying development.

I suppose that this whole obsessive list-making habit could, potentially, develop into serious case of OCD. But seeing as “consider therapy for developing case of OCD” isn’t featuring on a list anywhere, I’m not going to worry about it.

I love my list system. It works significantly better than simply relying on myself. When I have constructed a list, I congratulate myself for being organised. Having a list makes me feel like a good person because rather than merely ignoring the fact my brain retains very little information, I’m actually doing something about it – which is so unlike me. So, yay! Good for me! Everything will be fine as long as I have a list. I don’t need to remember things, because everything I need to know is on my list (this is starting to sound a bit like the plot from Memento – except no one murdered my wife. I don’t think…. *consults list*).

Thanks to my lists, I no longer need to worry about forgetting to do things, or picking something up from the supermarket (or whatever) and so I allow my brain to go to sleep while I work through the list.

Last week, I noticed a little problem with my list system, thanks to human conditioning which provides me with a glimmer of satisfaction any time I cross something off a list. While I realise it doesn’t sound like a big problem, it does mean that I now have a tendency to rush through the things on my list just so I can have that fleeting sense of satisfaction when I cross them off. This also means I’m putting simple things on my list which require absolutely no effort whatsoever, just so I can cross them off, whilst ignoring bigger, actual jobs which involve lots of effort, as these are too big for me to really do (and just end up on tomorrow’s list instead):

jo's to do list

Worse still, lists do not allow for unexpected events. For example, this weekend my brother and sister-in-law came to visit, and for whatever reason the entire plumbing system went hay-wire causing the kitchen sink to fill with waste water anytime someone used the bathroom. As “clean up flooded kitchen” and “consider plumbing issue” weren’t on the list, I went into a blind panic – telling myself that I had failed because I wasn’t organised to think ahead about how I might deal with such a situation, thus taking the plumbing disaster extremely personally. When the sink started gurgling and filling with what can only really be described as hot liquid rust sick, I almost cried and actually asked the series of pipes beneath the sink why they were doing this to me.

Having spent the past four days being vigorously organised, and writing lists for Christmas presents, Christmas cards, Christmas shopping, cleaning, changing bed linin and a vast array of other Christmas/family visiting preparations, this whole plumbing thing felt like a whopping slap in the face – as though life was mocking me for thinking I could ever be organised.

After this minor household disaster, I’m wondering if I’m going to have to start writing absolutely everything on a list in order to actually make it through the day. I’ve also noticed that I frequently miss things off the list – my forgetfulness doesn’t stop even when I’m being organised and writing lists. So I just make a list of all the things I can remember and ignore all the things I can’t, and because I’ve told myself not rely on my brain (because I have a fail-safe list system) I simply refuse to do anything that didn’t make it onto the list – even when I remember it later.

I’m now at the point of having to write absolutely everything down – BECAUSE ANYTHING THAT DOESN’T FEATURE ON A LIST DOESN’T GET DONE.

The prospect of trying to construct a list covering absolutely everything I have to do, including the things I can’t remember, and the unexpected things (such as plumbing disasters), feels somewhat overwhelming and, well, nearly impossible.

And so phase #1 reoccurs and I retreat into a state of depressive apathy.

Thus, rendering the entire purpose of constructing a list a bit pointless.

Tagged: , , , , , , , ,

Comments: 17

  1. Nick Bryan (@NickMB) December 20, 2011 at 4:14 pm Reply

    I’ve tried to become a list user for a year or two now, I even signed up for Remember The Milk in the hope that I might actually use the damn things if I combined them with my main timesink (the internet), but it never works. I seem determined to rely on my (often awful) memory and occasionally forget tasks or double book myself. Sigh. So yeah, having read your post, I’m just jealous.

    • Jo and the Novelist December 21, 2011 at 9:40 am Reply

      I tried to use Remember the Milk once, and then I forgot that I had used it until you just mentioned it. I don’t think it’s gonna work for me. I’ll go through phases of saying “surely you can remember this, Jo. You don’t *really* need to write it down” then I’ll forget it, remember it, and curse myself for not writing it down.

      Your disorganisational skills mean you double book yourself… I’m jealous. That *never* happens to me.

      • Nick Bryan (@NickMB) December 22, 2011 at 12:08 pm Reply

        Yeah, I installed the app on my phone and everything but kept forgetting to look at it. Whoops. And yeah, the double-booking is mostly a trouble at times like Christmas. For example, tonight I treble-booked myself. Sigh.

  2. The Suniverse (@TheSuniverse) December 20, 2011 at 4:17 pm Reply

    That is the EXACT problem that I have with my multiple lists. Which are now not only on scraps of paper but also on my phone, because I’m trying to go paperless, which will never work. NEVER.

    PS I also will write stuff on the last after I’ve done it to have the satisfaction of crossing it off.

    • Jo and the Novelist December 21, 2011 at 9:42 am Reply

      My multiple lists got seriously out of hand, to the point where I almost considered putting them in a file somewhere. But the prospect of filing lists was less than appealing. So now I have a marker-board above my desk to write lists on. Organised *and* environmentally friendly ;)

  3. Steven Chapman December 20, 2011 at 5:29 pm Reply

    I’m quite a list fanatic myself, I’ve even gone so far as breaking things down like socks, shirt (I said shiRt), shave…on a list when I have to get up early for something important. The smaller and less important items on the list get crossed off like crazy and it makes me feel all fuzzy inside. Of course most of the time I do the easiest/quickest activities and with each tick, or strikethrough, the shit to do gets harder and takes longer. This means the more I tick of the list the slower I get at ticking things off. Most of the time I end up with the same list of huge jobs to do and a lot of things ticked that I would have done anyway – wake up, eat food, lock door, check door is locked, check door is locked, check door is locked, check door is locked, go to end of drive, return to house, check door is locked, check door is locked, check door is locked, leave for bus stop…hey, I haven’t even caught the bus yet and that’s at LEAST thirteen things ticked off my morning list!!

    Blimey, I wrote this before I finished your post…I didn’t realise how close it would be to my little list rant!

    • Jo and the Novelist December 21, 2011 at 9:47 am Reply

      Yeah, I went through the whole checking the door is locked a buh-zillion times before. But I never put it on a list because that would actually confirm that I was paranoid and obsessive. It’s easier to pretend I’m not if I don’t write things down. I’ve now replaced the whole door thing with checking my hair-straighteners are off. Because I’m pretty convinced that some day I will set the house on fire by leaving my hair straighteners on. Even though I automatically unplug them after every use. Even though they have a safety mechanism on them which means they turn themselves off when they haven’t been in use for 60 seconds. Again, I don’t put any of this on a list (I just confess to it on the internet) because that would confirm I am actually mad.

  4. alonewithcats December 20, 2011 at 11:49 pm Reply

    If you make a list with one task on it, and that one task is depressive apathy, then I’m pretty sure you win at lists. And depressive apathy. Two birds, one stone. You can thank me later.

    • Jo and the Novelist December 21, 2011 at 9:51 am Reply

      I never realised that I could win at depressive apathy, and now, thanks to you, I’m feeling a lot better about it. It’s kind of like the time you finished my novel for me and told me about black boxes on planes.

  5. Simone December 21, 2011 at 1:23 am Reply

    my lists have lists.

    my OCD is relentless.

    my shit gets DONE.

    my depressive apathy remains (except when i’m highly medicated).

    if the only thing you ever do is write, well, consider that a gift to yourself and all of us.

    • Jo and the Novelist December 21, 2011 at 9:57 am Reply

      I feel that I’m at the stage where my lists will spawn lists of their own, and soon I’ll have lots of baby lists and grandparent lists – a whole family of lists in fact… I may well take your advice, scratch everything else of the list and just have “WRITE!” appear on pieces of paper all over the house :)

  6. Carol December 21, 2011 at 6:03 pm Reply

    I make lists . . . and I include as much little stuff as I can on them so I can feel a sense of accomplishment as I cross things off. On a good day, that sense of accomplishment from all the little stuff I’ve done motivates me to tackle some of the big stuff.

    • Jo and the Novelist January 13, 2012 at 10:21 am Reply

      See, this is where I’m going wrong. All the small stuff I cross off just makes me think “Wow, I’ve done loads today, there’s no way I can do anything else. Time to sit down and eat biscuits”.

      Motivation, that’s the key to all of this…

  7. Vicky December 21, 2011 at 10:01 pm Reply

    I too have similar lists. Often I put those items on the list AFTER I have already done them. As in “Wash the dishes” is written on the list and immediately crossed off. I means I did EVERYTHING on my list! Definitely a better option than leaving shit unfinished.

    • Jo and the Novelist January 13, 2012 at 10:24 am Reply

      Yup – been there, done that. I stare at my list and think “Oooh, I also did the washing up today, but it wasn’t on the list” so I write it on, then cross it off again. Why? Why not just leave it?!

  8. Megan - Best of Fates January 5, 2012 at 8:53 pm Reply

    I’m actually a huge fan of lists, though now am slightly concerned I haven’t paid enough attention to how they’re ruining my mind!

    • Jo and the Novelist January 13, 2012 at 10:25 am Reply

      This is what lists do to a person, they trick you into thinking you’re organised, when actually they turn you into a crazy person. Damn you, lists!

      Maybe I should move onto spreadsheets, would that make it better?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *