1.1 in 10 X 10 – Why Lists Confound Me.


1. Lists are nothing more than goals going by another name.

And I have a fundamental issue with goals. To me, simply hearing the word is akin to nails on a chalkboard for most people. And if it is uttered by one with any semblance of  power over me, like a boss (or my mother), then the word takes me right over the edge. I instantly go into a sort of internal shut down mode. I can’t think about the goals themselves, because I’m thinking about Goals (big G).

That may seem ridiculous, but look at this way…if you want a cake, you work through the recipe one item at a time, until you end up with a cake as your finished product, which you can then enjoy.

Individual goals are like the ingredient list. But if you just sit and think about cake, well you never get your cake. Unless you get really lucky and someone else takes care of it for you. Goals are the cake. And I just sit around and think about cake all day.

2. Fear of Failure.

Most things come easy to me. Not in a narcissistic “I’m perfect” kind of way. It’s just that I have a very singular set of interests and abilities that come naturally to me, so I focus on those things and rarely branch out from my comfort zone. And since my comfort zone consists of things that come naturally to me (isn’t everybody’s?), I rarely have to really try to at least put in an average performance. And this is a habit that started way back in Elementary school, got honed in high school and perfected in college.

The result is really not pretty – now the idea of trying makes me panic a bit. What if I try and fail? Then what? And I don’t mean a halfhearted try, I mean bloody hands, sore muscles kind of trying. If I put that much effort in and tank it, I have no idea where to go from there.

This may seem to have nothing to do with lists, but it does.  If I start the day with a concrete list of 10 things that need to be done, and I accomplish 5 of them, all I can focus on is the 5 things I didn’t get done. I stress and tweak over them.

If I start the day with a bunch of stuff in my head that needs to be done, every time I accomplish one thing, I feel I’ve made progress. I’m not trying to conquer a list, I’m merely doing some stuff that needs doing.

And at the end of that day, even if I started with 10 things in my head and only finished 5 of them, I am able to focus on the ones I did accomplish and feel like I had a productive day.

3. I don’t like the paper.

Okay, this one is admittedly stupid, but I can’t help it. I love office supplies. No plain manilla (vanilla) folders for me. Nope – paisleys, retro B&W photography and other little bits of pretty for my desk. I color-code my client invoices with purple, blue and green Hi-Liters. Even my mechanical pencils are interesting. Lists get so ugly – they seem to inevitably end up on the back of receipts, yellow sticky notes or printer paper.

I’ve tried buying pretty note pads, but then I find myself re-writing the lists, because my penmanship sucks. And if my handwriting is reasonable, then the act of scribbling out an achieved item makes the list appear cluttered. And we can’t have that.

The odd thing, is that this is my only foray into OCD style aesthetics…if you could see my house, you’d know how hysterical this really is.

I’m not saying we’re a couple of bunny carcasses away from Hoarders, but it’s a small house occupied by two adults, a 3 year old hurricane, two cats with a mutual loathing for each other, and a St. Bernard puppy. That right there is a lot of daily activity.

Add in one mother who abruptly moved South and brought most of her belongings here, and another mother who suddenly ended up in a nursing home and had all of her belongings brought here as well.  Well, that’s a lot of stuff.

Aesthetics don’t count for much here. Order does. So I know it’s stupid, but I’m keeping this little OCD, as it may be the only thing I have room for.

4. They appear to leave no room for adjustment.

This may or may not be a point that is created from a couple others, but considering it’s always an issue, I figure it deserves a spot here.  Lists seem to come in one of two forms – either so densely packed that one feels there is no room to deviate or make on the fly adjustments, or there is a lot of space so that appears I may have forgotten something.

Both of these freak me out. If the list is compact enough to make me feel there is no room to deviate or make adjustments, I feel overwhelmed; it feels like my actual day is pushing back at me. I don’t like that at all. It’s like mental claustrophobia.

And if I leave too much space between entries, I feel like I forgot something…did I leave a space there because there was a related item or task that I couldn’t remember fully while composing the list? What was it? Why couldn’t I remember it when I was writing the list?

Obviously the space between bleach and laundry detergent was for something laundry related. Or was it general cleaning related? Do  I need the bleach for clothes, or was I planning to bleach the counter top and the missing item has nothing at all to do with laundry? AHHHH!

Do you see the problem with this spacing thing?

5. They force me to consider efficiency.

This, one would think, is a good thing. But when I try to be efficient it always seems to come back and bite me.

My natural instinct it to work through things in the most logical way. The most logical way, is almost always by extension, the most efficient way. If I try to deviate from my natural order, I crash.

Take for example grocery shopping. I hate it. So I go in, get what I need and exit as fast as possible.

And by making lists for a while, it occurred to me – I buy paper towels, cat & dog food and a handful of other things every week. Then there’s non-perishable food – I buy the same ones week after week as well. And then there’s fresh meat and produce – this is really the varied part of my shopping – my choices differ each week.

So a while back I decided it would be more efficient to go buy the non-food and non perishables in a quantity that would last the month, thus leaving me able to shop weekly for only the meat, produce and dairy items.  Woo-hoo, a swift and efficient trek around the store perimeter and I’m golden.

And what happened? I ended up realizing the monthly cost impact of these items, so I ran around to three different stores to get the best deal on all of those non-perishables. Not efficient.

And on top of that, every damn week I’d get home and realize that I’d gone through all of the chicken stock. Or we’d run out of olive oil. Or the dog had eaten all the toilet paper and my husband forgot to tell me. One item might not seem like a big deal, but when the item is a necessity for several of the planned meals for the week, it matters.  Or you know, when it’s toilet paper.

So I’d kill an hour just to run back to town and fetch whatever it was.

Extra gas aside, I also ended up spending more on the groceries overall, despite my store bounce savings technique.  Why? Because the cart had so little in it at the end of each trip, I’d double back and grab treats – bread pudding for my little, or something else that was outside of the norm. This just does not work for me.

6. They make me myopic.

I have a list, therefore, I must adhere to the list! Groceries are the bad guy here, too. If I simply write out a list of things I need, I go down the list in order.

What’s first on the list? Grapes. So off to produce I go. What’s next? Crackers. Off to aisle 4. Next? Carrots. Damn, back to produce.

Clearly this doesn’t take much explaining.

I even tried putting together a grocery list in excel (ahem – geek), of those items I buy regularly, in the order they appear at the grocery store. Hi-Lite the ones I need any given week, that should work, Yes?

Not so much. Why? Goes back to the cluttered list. There are SO many entries on the list over all that it makes me panicky to see few items hi-lighted…did I forget something? Is that Avocados or Apples that are hi-lited? How come there is no yogurt selected? I always buy yogurt. Moment of brain strain trying to recall a picture of the inside of the fridge this morning.

And yes the list is alphabetized. We’ll just move on.

7. Once I write something down in order to remember it, I tend to remember it.

This is where the whole thing gets flat out stupid. If I write a list and bring it, I am confounded by it, and it haunts my day.  If, however, I write a list in longhand and then forget said list as I leave the house. Well then, I’m likely to rock the list. It’s like the list is hardwired into my brain, with the added benefit of auto rearrange to provide for the maximum efficiency.

I rarely, if ever forget things this way. And this makes me think, why I have an excellent memory, I don’t need a list. But if I don’t first write the list, I don’t fare as well.

This is sticky. It’s like I’m being mocked by my own brain. If I go back to the cake thing, it’s like baking a cake when I want one, and whenever I bake one, someone also brings me one, which makes my efforts seem worthless.

So, do I bake a worthless cake to get one delivered, or just not have cake at all and eat whatever comes down the pike?

8. I’m not good at making them.

This one is simple – the things I’m likely to include on a list are the things  that are likely taking me to town in the first place, but then I can’t figure out what ELSE should be on the list.  And I sit and ponder. And sit and ponder…

9. I’m a lousy forward thinker.

With some things I’m good at forward thinking. I’m young(ish) and have Life Insurance and a retirement account. I remember birthdays in plenty of time to get a gift.  Things like that I’m fine with.

But the To-do list? Not so much. I may remember the birthday with plenty of time to spare.  Whether or not I actually purchase a gift, on the other hand…

And my driver’s license. It expired on my birthday last year…and I kept passing over it on the To-Do list in favor of killing more than one bird with my efforts (Damn you, DMV for being on the far outskirts of town).

I did this for 9 months. 9!  Until my niece, who has a similar affliction to mine, got pulled over with her own license renewal 10 months overdue. She was carted off to the local courthouse and her 4 kids were schlepped off with a social worker until her husband could show up to pay her gigantic fine and drive them all home.

Holy crap! We only have one car! I could be in jail forever! After Erinn’s debacle, my own renewal stayed in my brain instead of on paper, and two days later I cancelled 2 clients and drove to town to do the task.

The renewal had been on my To-do list. It was just one of those items that I kept thinking about, but never did anything about it. But the list tricked me into thinking that since it was marked down as something that must get done, I’d get it done.

10. They seem to suck out some IQ points.

Not all, but most of the above aspects of this list are me being stupid, or out thinking myself. Lists aside, I’ a relatively bright girl. I’m kind of an unofficial Dial a Friend friend for most of my friends – lots of random phone calls for answers to all manner of questions, and I can hold my own in conversations with professionals, Hell I teach doctors as my day job.

But when I get anywhere near a list, or start thinking of one, or trying to compose one, it’s like my frontal lobe is just a mash up of old, wet newspapers and dryer lint.

It’s entirely possible that this entry shouldn’t have been a list at all…

Maybe it should have been a single entry post – List and the IQ Slide.

This one is certainly not efficient or well ordered. But now that I’m nearing the end, I’m getting all jittery again, and I’m back to thinking about this as a (big G) Goal. But because the one other word that makes me as twitchy as “Goals” is “revision” I am going to stop now before I revise the list to death.

I’m just gonna go have some cake.

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4 thoughts on “1.1 in 10 X 10 – Why Lists Confound Me.

  1. Number 7 seems to answer itself. Once you write it down, you remember it. If you had not written it down, regardless of your need to keep track of the list once you have, you might not have remembered it. Irony is awesome like that.

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  2. Pingback: ROW Round 4 Check in # 2 – Rant Rave Write | Rant Rave Write for GroupThink

  3. well you have my problem magnified 10000x! I don’t like other people giving me lists or goals – i can manage my mind myself thank you – I have to make lists my memory is a) full of stuff being verrry old and b) for the same reason I grow forgetful!! I am not thank goodness a perfectionist so if i dont tick of 10 out of 10 acheived but only 5 it does not worry or fret me I carry them over to the next day – sometimes they get carried over for months although I had never done that to a licence !! eventually they will rise to the top.

    Hang on here on ROW80 make the ideals loose – you don’t have to commit to x number of words you know just say you’d like to . . . free, easy, work at your pace. We are a great bunch here – stick with us

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    • It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who chaffs under lists imposed by other people…make me shudder just thinking about it. And I think ROW is perfect for me – having some flexibility is a good thing. And so are the comments and page views…if nothing else, they make me feel like someone is actually reading. Thanks for the welcome!

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