As I write this, it’s 11 a.m. So far, I’ve attacked the landfill that is my office desk and organized it into teetering piles, each with a different Post-it note on which I’ve written its category: filing (household); filing (medical); filing (project notes); crap to follow up on; and the dreaded, “To Do.”
This last category ranges from paying bills, emailing warranties, measuring windows for curtains, getting a stain out of a kid’s shirt that’s been in the laundry room “since forever,” to scheduling my son’s orientation day at the college we’re dropping him off at this fall, and setting grooming appointments for me and my dog. Yep, we’re both getting a makeover this week. He’s getting his hair washed and cut, his nails trimmed, and his anal glands expressed; I’m getting a cut and color. I sure hope I don’t get those appointments mixed up.
A “To Do” list like that looms over me almost every day, and this is in addition to the job I actually get paid to sit at my desk and do. If I ignore the list, and do my job, I feel anxious. If I ignore my job, and do the list, I feel anxious. So on this particular morning, I chose to start with the list, and just when I was really knocking down the bone pile on my desk, feeling mighty accomplished, the phone rang. For me, a phone call in the morning is equivalent to a mortar round landing at my feet. The shrill whistle starts low, then increases in volume; or maybe it’s just my ring tone, which happens to be Springsteen’s “Jungleland,” as it hits max volume and I answer it. And by answer it, I mean hurl myself on a live grenade.
Why? Because people typically call me for one of two reasons: they want to find out where I am, or they want to find out why I’m not where I’m supposed to be. When today’s bomb dropped, it was the former; yesterday, it was the latter (the dentist’s office wondering “are you on your way?” as it was 15 minutes past my appointment time. Bear in mind that we switched dentists a couple years ago because it was too hard trying to get all the way across the county ten times (four kids, plus myself) a year. Now my dentist is approximately 3/10 of a mile from my house. Two of the kids can drive themselves from school. And yet…
So back to the call. In the span of a few minutes, today’s “To Do” list morphed into a “To Don’t” list.
“Yes, it’s me. My personal assistant has the day off. How may I serve you?”
“Are you at home?”
“Can you please bring me my _____________?”
After returning home from the three-minute round trip to school, Bruce is at it again.
“Yes, it’s me.
“Are you at home?”
“Who wants to know?”
“Haha, um, can you bring me my history book?”
“Yes. Where can I find it?”
“Somewhere in the house.”
“So you’ve already ruled out the backyard, is that it?”
This is how it begins. Slowly, the number of “To Don’ts” grows; it all depends on when the calls start, and where my search and rescue missions take me. Sometimes it’s to the store for water or Gatorade; other times it’s just into a bedroom to excavate for a particular pair of sports socks, or an assignment that somehow carries the weight of life and death. As they’ve gotten older, these calls have become less frequent. They’re good kids, and I work from home, so I don’t mind.
Other “To Do” busters include urgent phone calls from friends:
“Wanna walk today.”
“Can’t. Thirteen million things to do.”
Occasionally, the “To Do” list is so hideous I have no choice but to look away, and by look away, I mean bail.
“Want to go to lunch at a winery today?”
“I’ll pick you up in five minutes.”
This column is dedicated to the people in my life who don’t understand how their important task slipped through my cracks. It hasn’t, really. It’s right there on my “To Don’t” list.