The list maker…

I’m a list maker. I’ve got a list for groceries, a list of projects that needs done around the house, a list of books I want to read, and countless others of varying lengths.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve started keeping what feels like it could be the most dangerous list of all. No, it’s not an enemies list. I’ve earned a few of those over the years, but I don’t consider my enemies in any way dangerous enough to need to keep the little shits on a list. This new list that has been evolving lives on my phone under the heading of “Things I want to Learn More About.” It’s a deceptively simple title for what’s threatening to become a weighty issue.

My reading, especially in history, has long suffered because of my habit of allowing myself to fall down research rabbit holes either because of footnotes or random tidbits that caught my interest but were only tangentially related to the main theme of whatever I happened to be reading. I’d often find myself stopping to google something and then spend half an hour or more picking up the basics. Interesting as it is, that methodology is a hard way to get through a book.

So, for the last few weeks I’ve been making a conscious decision to just take a note of the people, places, or things that warranted further reading. It’s hard to say for sure, but I feel like my reading pace and retention rate are both at least a little better off for this new way of conducting myself.

The down side, because of course there’s always a down side, is that I seem to be adding an innumerable amount of topics to my already lengthy reading list. Just from the past weekend’s reading of Arsenal of Democracy, I want to dig in to a) The transfer of power at Ford Motor Company from Henry to his grandson; b) Henry’s Fair Lane estate; c) General Motors early corporate history; d) Bill Knudsen, biography; e) Alfred P. Slone, biography.

There’s no particular reason I need to know any of these things other than having a curious mind and an interest spurred on by some passing references in what I was reading. It’s only a problem when each new book leads to four or five other things and you realize, as always, that time is a limited and non-renewable resource. If I’m lucky, my thirst can be slaked for most topics with a quick read through a Wikipedia article. Others, though, will deserve full books in their own right and each one of those will lead to its own list of more things I want to know.

There are times I wonder if it wouldn’t be altogether more satisfying to be a little bit stupid. It feels like it would certainly save me a great deal of time and effort… and probably reduce the number of items on all my lists significantly.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

I usually keep a running list of these things. It’s a rare Thursday when I don’t have nearly a page full to pick from. It’s a rarity, but it does happen from time to time. In fact it’s almost always the hallmark of it being an incredibly dull week.

Some people would look at that term as a negative. They’re the kind of people who jump out of perfectly serviceable airplanes or wrestle alligators. I’m not one of them. I’m just pleased as punch when things run on time and to standard. I’m happy not to bitch and complain when the universe gives me no reason to call it out.

It’s been an easy week with no work-related crises, a reasonably low instances of interaction with stupid people (or people in general, really), and the chance to knock down one of the first big projects on my “Want to Do” list instead of ticking off another one of the “Need to Do” items. There’s plenty of time yet for the wheels to come off, of course, but just now I’m not feeling very annoyed about this week at all.

Sorry to disappoint you.

Learning acceptance…

Even with the afternoon and evening to go, I can feel Monday’s grinding maw approaching. One look at the list of things I was shooting to have finished by the time the curtain fell on the long weekend tells me there’s no path to get there from here. I hate that feeling. I also, just a little bit, hate that I care quite so much about it.

It wasn’t an exciting list, including such fun-filled activities as flushing the well filter, getting the mulch out of the front yard and back into the planting beds, wiping down baseboards, and giving the dog’s room a good scrub, and going on from there. Some of the things god crossed off. More of them will spill over onto next week’s already growing list.

It’s probably a character flaw, but I wish I could quiet down my head just a little and let more of the “small stuff” just be. I’m not wired like that. I thought briefly about trying to catch a movie this afternoon, before grudgingly admitting I wouldn’t get any joy from it as long as things were left undone or out of place on the homestead.

I do wonder sometimes if I might be a more sane person if I could somehow manage to learn acceptance – or at least come to an accommodation with whatever in my head urges me on to use every available hour to get one more thing off the list… Though with my own small mental quirks notwithstanding, I have to admit I’ve got this old house looking damned good. I wouldn’t eat off the floors or anything, but I’m pretty sure the casual observer would give the place passing marks. That’s something, right?

Now if it would just dry up enough outside that I could cut the grass and do some trimming we’d be all set.

You’ve got questions, I’ve got answers…

Because I’m perfectly comfortable being lazy and letting blog-worthy ideas come to me instead of chasing them down, I’m opting to respond to a question posted on my Facebook page in response to last night’s blog post. I’ll apologize in advance for the 24 hours delay in getting back to you, Jess, but I hope the fully formed response makes up for its less than timely delivery.

The question: What tools do you use to keep this list and how often do you go to it? And is that just the blog list? What about ideas for books and such? How do you keep track of everything when there is limited time to address any of it? Inquiring minds want to know.

The answer: Starting from the last part of your question, let me go on the record as saying dealing with limited time is the bane of my existence. I’m going to assume for purposes of discussion that I’m not alone in that sentiment. Between a day job, the blog, a couple of longer-term writing projects, and the other mandatory ephemera of life demanding attention, there is always more to do than there is time to do it. I try to keep this in check by an occasional ruthless culling of priorities. Every few months I physically make a list of everything I do as part of my day-to-day routine, rank order them, and then cut away as may at the bottom of the list as I can get away with eliminating.

This method has the unfortunate side effect of having sliced away most of what you might consider hobbies, unfortunately. It’s also led to a greater than reasonable volume of dog hair residing under furniture and in the photocarpets than I’m entirely comfortable with. Having, as I do, a fairly wide OCD streak, learning to accept that dust is unsightly but probably isn’t going to kill you has been a particularly difficult lesson to digest. I’m sure there are very good writers who find some other way of managing their time and getting it all done, but this is a method that works for me. Mostly. If you’re out there with kids or husbands or wives demanding attention, yeah, I’m not sure how you’ll make all that fit. Mercifully the only living creatures I’m responsible for are basically satisfied sleeping under the kitchen table while I do my thing.

Now when it comes to the meat of keeping track of ideas I try to keep it as simple as possible. I know there are a metric crapload of apps specifically designed for list making, but I tend to rely on something simple and understated – the Notes app that came installed on my phone. I chunk out the big ideas into either blog ideas or book ideas with one extra category left over specifically for issues I want to feature on Thursdays as part of What Annoys Jeff this Week. Since I usually have one or two other works in progress on hand at any given time, those generally have their own “note” as well so I can keep them segregated and avoid having a list so long as to make it functionally useless.

I refer to my lists fairly often, though some see more action than others. I try to add ideas as they come to me during the day or especially at night if I wake up with something that feels particularly important. As an aside, no matter what idea comes to you in the middle of the night, write it down so you can give it another look in the light of day. 3AM is a terrible time to make decisions about the virtue of half formed thoughts. Likewise, whipping out your phone in the middle of a deadly dull meeting to jot down the most unintentionally funny thought of the day is frowned upon. When I find myself in those circumstances, painfully separated from the electronic world, there’s no substitute for ye olde pen and paper (provided you transcribe the important parts over to your electronic filing system before your great ideas are lost to the shredder). I’ve lost more “good ideas” than I can imagine by simply assuring myself that I’m sure I’ll remember it later. The hard truth is there isn’t one chance in a hundred that you’re going to remember anything more than the fact that you had an idea that you neglected to write down.

The best and only advice I can give on any of this is to find a system that works for you and apply it mercilessly all day, every day. If you’re going to write five, six, seven times a week, it’s the only way I’ve come up with to even attempt to keep the pipeline full of new and semi-interesting ideas.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The Bank. From time to time I have to physically walk into a bank branch. Every time I do, I’m reminded why I do as much banking as humanly possible online. That would be because online, I don’t have to stand in a line five deep while one teller window is open for business and two other tellers stand behind the counter looking at the fire extinguisher. I know I couldn’t do a job that required direct interaction with the public, but if you’re going to have one, maybe you should try, you know, interacting with the public.

2. Adulthood. Aside from waking up with the occasional ache or pain, the bills, and other assorted responsibilities, I feel pretty much like I’m waking up at approximately age 17. Society might be able to make me put on pants and give the appearance of being a responsible adult, but I’m mostly just faking it and hoping nobody notices. You might be able to make me be serious and responsible, but you can’t make me want to… and you certainly can’t make me like it.

3. Lists. I start every day with a list. Most weekdays the list I started the day with looks disturbingly like the one I end the day with. I would be easy to assume that means I wasn’t doing much during the day, but more often than not it means that whatever I planned on doing got overwhelmed by whatever crisis-of-the-day cropped up and needed complete and undivided attention. The problem with having the list is that no matter what crisis you manhandled into submission, some jackass is going to come along and ask why the stuff on the list didn’t get done too. I’m pretty sure the lesson here is to either not make lists, or stop having expectations. Possibly both.

What you get…

What you get when you’ve got a guy who’s a little too attached to his routine and an extra day off every week is a list of things that usually takes until mid-day Sunday to accomplish being done before noon on Saturday. That’s not the worst problem to have, of course, but it does point towards needing to revise the weekly to do list to account for an additional 24 hours of non-scheduled time. I told myself I’d get down to the business of outlining a few potential ideas for a new book, but from this post you can imagine for yourself how that’s going so far.

So yeah, here we are on Saturday afternoon with absolutely nothing pressing to get into. I’m flipping through my three-ring binder of comfort food recipes trying to light onto something that sounds good for dinner tonight. As for the rest, it looks like maybe I’ll get some reading done and get some quality time with the kids… or maybe I can get started on building the bigger tortoise habitat that I sketched out a few months ago. Seriously, having this much regular free time on on hands is freaking me out a little.

All go, all day…

The problem with running all day like a house on fire is that you reach a point round about 5PM when all you want to do is sit down and sleep. That’s all well and good, but there’s also that little obnoxious voice in your head reminding you that there are still things that need done… like writing a witty and entertaining blog post on Saturday night. Yeah, I’m honestly not sure this post is going to be either witty or entertaining. I’m not really complaining. I really did get alot done today and since this has been my first weekend home in the last three, I feel good about that. Still, I’d rather not have looked up and realized it was going on 8PM. Maybe I should have cut off the productivity a little earlier. Of course then I’d be sitting here obsessing about the list of things that didn’t get done today. It’s a classic case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Just one of life’s little hardships.

I’m not going to lie, I’m looking forward to a much abbreviated to do list for tomorrow. Beyond blogging and taking on a few other odds and ends, my only hope is that it’s a good day to get a little more writing done. Sitting down with a good book for an hour or two would just put the day over the top. I’m trying to manage my expectations.

Things to do…

So we’ve officially gone directly from stressing about getting a job to stressing about getting through all the wickets to actually get there on time. It probably says something disturbing about me that I’ve sat down and started keeping track of those wickets using a color coded matrix. Of course this isn’t an exhaustive list by any stretch of the imagination, but it seems like as good a way as any to keep track of the things I need to get done between now and June 4th. I’d anticipate in the next week or so this list is going to be alot longer than it is now. That’s fine. I’ve never shied away from hard work for a good cause… and my escape from Memphis is currently the best cause of which I am aware.

Today was a planned day off long before I got the word that I would be leaving, but I’ve tried to use it to good effect. Aside from the original planned trip to the vet, I’ve managed to set up appointments with two movers for quotes, changed some mailing addresses, started the process of changing my insurance coverage, talked to my sawbones about forwarding medical records, and even packed a few more odds and ends – before running out of boxes (again). That’s a reasonably productive day. I’m gaining confidence every moment that I’ll be able to clear out without too many issues.

Reception on the other end remains to be determined. It would be nice to have a house lined up and waiting when I show up, but the chances of that happening are slim to none. I don’t exactly have alot of time built in to the schedule to go poke around myself so I’m relying on the kindness of friends, family, and a slightly standoffish relator (at the moment) to point me in the right direction. Disturbingly, the most important features I’m looking for aren’t even something for me. I need a rental house that’s pet friendly and has a fence… because lets face it, trying to cram me, two eighty pound dogs, and a house worth of furniture into a two bedroom apartment isn’t going to happen.Neither is me running them in and out to a designated “community pet area” multiple times a night. So yeah, a house and a fence. Pretty much everything else is a point for negotiation.

There’s a metric crapload of things that still need done… and the clock is definitely ticking.