What's All the To-Do About?


About that

What’s all the To-Do About?

“My to-do list gets longer and longer,” Notta stated over lunch last week.

We’d compromised on a little restaurant specializing in salads; which means, Notta KO’d the idea of going for pizza in fear of all the pork products they would likely put on the pies.I agreed to the salads. The pork and other things unkosher discussion would take some time.Some other time. And Heaven knows we both needed (and need) our veggies.

“So what do you have on the list?” I asked. With the usual bad timing, Notta had put a forkful of something green and red in her mouth. I waited for her to chew.

I thought of my own, sitting at home on my desk with cheerful pictures next to each category and bullet points next to each chore or appointment under each category heading and the important ones in bold and different colors and fonts. Yes, I can be anal about to-do lists.

It is one of my favorite Sunday morning occupations to come up with an attractive, well-organized plan for accomplishments…and proceed to ignore or give little more than lip service to the lot. Well, that’s an exaggeration. I count it a victory if I can cross off half what I put on my weekly lists. The few times I have crossed off every item, my family has returned home for Erev Shabbat dinner to find me in something of a feral, gelatinous state.Their high energy on those nights and all their plans for the weekend tend to leave me growling under my desk.

“There’s the cleaning,” Notta finally said, dabbing at the balsamic vinaigrette on her lips. “I have yet to figure out how, after the kids are grown and gone, two adults can make such a mess.”

I nodded. “Laundry never stays done; and unless you’re eating out of troughs, the dishes never stay washed. I’d call messes a fact of life.”

“Yes, but the clutter! My ‘dear’ husband can collect papers we don’t need and magazines he won’t read like nobody’s business.”

“You collect recipes,” I pointed out.

“They go straight into my folders!” Notta took another bite and chewed rather aggressively. “And if I can’t get them in right away, I put that filing on my to-do list.” She nibbled a crouton and found it acceptable. “Come to think of it, I have filing on the list.” We laughed.

“Do you make out lists for your husband, too?”

Notta held up her hands in mock horror. “God forbid! His parents always made lists for him, starting back when he was in college. All the repairs, the yard work, the installations. After we were married, I got my chores as well. It wasn’t trip to his parents’ house without The List waiting for us.”

“You’re telling me this list business is genetic?”

Notta made a snorting noise and spat a little lettuce onto the table between us. “Sorry. I hope it isn’t genetic. As a matter of fact, I’d say no. None of my kids make to-do lists the way we do and our parents do. With the kids, it’s what’s to be done today and how soon can I get it done?”

“That’s such a bad thing?”

“Where’s the perspective? The long-range plans, the Big Picture?”

I shrugged, wishing for a toothpick. Spinach always sticks to my teeth. “Maybe they can keep it all in their heads. They’re young.”

Notta frowned. “Are you saying we’re old?”

“Older, surely. Besides, we have so much more in our heads than they do: experiences, observations, wisdom. Human brains can only contain so much; for us, something’s bound to leak out.”

Notta humphed and chewed more salad. “With my husband’s allergies, sometimes I think it must be leaking out his nose.” More laughter. “I always thought it was super organized to keep a list. First, I put it on a calendar, breaking things up day by day, so there wasn’t so much on one day. Then I started thinking of things I’d like to do. Those got inserted on the calendar. Next came the shopping and meal plans on the calendar; I had to make sure we were following Dr. Taffypull’s diet plan. Then the surprises came up – people visiting, my husband deciding to take a vacation, all the stuff you never see coming – and, pretty soon, there was no more room on the calendar!”

“I hear you,” I said.

“So I started keeping a list of chores and separate lists for shopping, fun stuff, possible trips. I had pages and pages of lists!”

“I think some people actually publish those.”

“Not mine. Any sane person would look at mine and run screaming out the door.”

“Do you get everything done each week, according to schedule?”

Notta gave me The Look: half patronizing, half scornful. “Surely you jest.”

“Don’t call me Shirley.”

“Don’t give me clichés. It’s a red letter day when I can get two-thirds of it done. Forget about all of it.”

“And that drives you crazy?”

“Makes me hyperventilate about everything going undone, if I think about it.”

“Then why think about it?”

That stopped her fork in mid-stab. I hope the veggies enjoyed the reprieve. “What do you mean?”

“I admit it: I have a weekly list, too. Full as yours, I’d guess. My dear husband, my sister, my mother-in-law and Mrs. ShouldBe keep telling me I need to stay ‘busy.’ But, as you say, it never ends. It never will end as long as I’m breathing. And that’s OK.”


I chased a grape tomato around my bowl with a dull fork. “ “Well, in the paraphrased words of a comic I once saw, I can say I was put on this earth to accomplish a certain number of things and, even now, I’m so far behind, I will have to live forever.” Notta did not buy that. “Yeah, I don’t buy it, either.

“What I mean to say is, at one point, especially when the kids were home, I drove myself nearly to ulcers and nervous breakdowns trying to do everything. And for what? The laundry never stopped, the dishes never stayed clean, the house was never uncluttered (unless we were selling it).Then, one day recently, I stopped and asked myself what the hell I was thinking? There had to be a better way.

“The point is, I try to do as much as I can. I break things down into smaller items that build to bigger and bigger items, but I don’t obsess over it. I give myself an ‘atta girl’ for everything I can cross off. What doesn’t get crossed off this week, waits to the next week, or the next (I really hate ironing).”

“Then why make the lists?” she challenged me. “Why not keep it all in your head?”

I laughed and tapped my temple. “Not that much room left. Lists help me keep down the mental clutter. I guess I’d rather save the space.”

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