I know that sounds weird, and I want you to know that it is not some disordered sort of magical thinking. I don't have to read the new DSM 5 to know that I don't qualify for OCD, because I lack the concentration and stamina this disorder clearly requires.* I don't have the mental wherewithal to think obsessively about anything, so my worries about whether or not I locked my door and my concerns about the safety of our food supply would quickly be shooed out of my brain by "Oh look, something sparkly!" or "Do I smell french fries?" And let's face it, I am simply too lackadaisical to act compulsively. Even if I could muster the energy to repeatedly wash my hands or count street signs or clean kitchen surfaces, I would likely decide, sooner rather than later, to simply open my notebook, put it on my to do list, and move on.
The genesis of the lists is my insomnia, which usually presents itself as me lying in bed at about three a.m. (duh) thinking about things that need to be done or things that should have already been done or things I want to do... My mind flits from item to item, as I picture myself cleaning something or making a phone call or running an errand. I have some kind of aspirational insomnia, I guess, because I'm usually not thinking about the day that just happened, I'm thinking about the day to come. I'm a real Scarlett O'Hara, as far as that goes, because tomorrow (and usually the day after that) is always present to me, full of possibilities, yes, but mostly, full of responsibilities-- you know, things to do. I used to actually get up and write things down to simply get them out of my head. Once the duties were committed to paper, I could settle down and eventually sleep because I knew I wouldn't forget something. Now, when getting up to get the notebook most surely means waking a small someone who will need a glass of water or want to chat about their amazing unicorn dream, I am often able to settle down just by telling myself what will go on the list in the morning. See what I mean about why I could never make it as a compulsive?
So yes, I have notebooks full of years' worth of to do lists. I didn't even realize this was the case until I went through the old notebooks and noticed that most of the pages were not scraps of writing or inspirational quotes or ideas for businesses or things to make, but actually just lists of shit I had to get done. Mostly lists of not crossed off items. Recently, I missed doing almost everything on the day's list while I looked back at years of lists to see what I did, what I failed to do, and what I finally made myself do after weeks of putting it off. (Just a thought: what might be nearly compulsive is that I still have most of the notebooks I've used over the years. I made my last move across the country without many of my practical belongings, like say, a toaster, a sofa or a bathroom scale, but the crumpled box of notebooks got put on the truck early, tucked behind the front seat. That might be kinda crazy.)
|I'm sure it is full of to do lists...|
As I mentioned earlier, I include easy tasks that I would do every day anyway, like "do dishes," or "get girls ready for school," to give myself something to cross off, so that the list doesn't seem so far-fetched. I also have less specific things like WRITE and COOK, which I guess are meant to motivate me to creatively fill in the details. Mostly though, I have lists of calls to make and chores to do and things to get at the store and stuff I have to do for family members. Every once in a while, I have fantasy items thrown in, just for chuckles, like NAP and PEDICURE.
Of course it's clear that I use the list as a way of making things seem manageable-- not that they are so unmanageable, but whatever helps you sleep and propels you through the day I think, must be okay. On a good day, the list provides both a plan for the day and evidence that I got something done, not just those easy ones I put on there. On the best day, the list is tangible proof that I know how to use my time wisely, because you know, your third grade teacher was right; just about everything in life really does come down to that. As an added bonus, the undone items always serve as seeds for the next day's list-- as if I didn't already have plenty of new things I think up when I can't fall asleep.
Of course, the list is also also a handy way to avoid doing some stuff. When the list includes something I don't want to do-- and the list always contains those items-- I can soothe myself for a little while by doing something I am less averse to, like cleaning a closet instead of cleaning a bathroom, or calling someone with a birthday wish instead of calling Sallie Mae to negotiate another loan deferment. Clearly, I'm getting things done. There are crossed off items, not just the easy ones. But I do notice that an item can make the list every day for a week (or longer) until it becomes the thing I can do to avoid something even less palatable. See, it's a system. A coping mechanism. A way of life.
I'd like to write more, but really, I've got a whole list of things to do.
*To be clear, I am not making fun of anyone genuinely struggling with OCD-- I am using it to point out some of my own shortcomings.
To do list image found here.