Posted in writing

Obsessive list making and where it leads

Some time ago (July 10, 2010, to be precise) I wrote a piece on HubPages. Looking back, I think it was more of a way to procrastinate than to publish, but it led, recently, to the latter and one of those once in a lifetime stories. First, the original HubPages post.


Confessions of an obsession list maker: Too many notes
written as Kim Bauer

I’m a compulsive list and note person. Notes to remember what to get at the store, phone numbers, lists of things to do. The latter is the bane of my existence. Not only does it serve as a way to keep track of all the niggling little things I have to do, it serves well to leave me in a continual state of frustration.

Someone once told me that every time I take one “worry” off my list, another three appear. It’s true. (And, yes, I have a list of things to worry about as well–I just don’t keep it on paper. No need, my worries trail along behind me wherever I go, fighting to be foremost on the list.)

It works the same with lists of things to take care of/get done. The list never goes away; it’s my reason for getting up every morning. I write them, prioritize them, get one or two things done and then come back to it a few days later (to get myself back on track) and realize it’s so desperately incomplete that I need to take a few minutes  to update it. That few minutes spent adding to the list and making it look nice (always a top priority) exhausts me and I set the list aside, yet again.

There’s a certain comfort in having a list of things to do–I’ll never run out, for sure. Never have to wonder what to do with the elusive “spare time.” And, having a nice, neat, complete list, frees my mind. Usually just for those nagging worries. It keeps everything in order, something I’ve discovered is crucial to my success in surviving every day….when my desk is in chaos, I take a few minutes to clear it off and organize the piles. That seems to create peace in my head (conveniently giving the worries some space) and I’m able to pick up the first thing on a pile and complete it.

Another, seriously important “comfort” my lists provide is the knowledge that I won’t forget something important I have to do–it is, after all written down.

Listing becomes a problem, however, when I’m clearing off my desk and discover several lists–that means I have to stop and combine them, prioritize them, and make them look nice. That guarantees that I won’t even get to the top thing on any particular pile. And, do I stop to add all the things in the piles to the “just do it” list or do I assume they can survive on their own, as long as the piles are neat? I will eventually get to something if it’s in a pile, right? But, will it lose its priority and cause me to miss a deadline if it’s not on the list? There are two solutions I’ve discovered to this particular issue. One is to re-sort and re-prioritize my desk piles daily, maybe even hourly if I’m particular agitated about a deadline. The second, and this is particularly appealing, is to create a “sub” list of sorts.

Thus, a list for general things to do, a list of books to read, a list of calls to make, a list of errands to run, a list of what to get at the store, a list of projects and deadlines, and so on. This works well until the lists become too numerous; each list feels as overwhelming as the one big list I started with before I felt it necessary to break them out into “easy to manage” specific lists. Then I have to stop to reorganize them all. Again.

And, there are daily lists, too. The big list is too big, so I pull a couple of “OMG these have to be done today” tasks off the big list and put them on a daily list which then has to be combined with the next day’s daily list or put back on the big list to vegetate.

Tidiness is a major concern for me. If I find a list with a few things crossed off and it looks kind of messy, I resolve the problem by creating a whole new list–just copying over the original list and maybe adding a couple of more items.

Worse for me than repeatedly copying over the things I haven’t yet finished (really good guilt-making stuff) is my need to write things down on any available piece of paper. (This is one of age, I think–I can no longer remember more than three things at once in my constantly shrinking brain. If I need four things at the market, it requires a list, or I’ll only come home with three of them.) I find these bits of paper, envelopes, bills, post it notes, etc., everywhere and then have to stop to add them to one of my lists. It also provides endless hours of fun for family and friends who are amused by my “have you seen an envelope from PGE with a phone number on it?” questions. Strangely, I can remember exactly what envelope I wrote the number on, but can’t remember when I put the envelope.

As I write this, I find I have discovered a new way to avoid working on my lists, rearranging my desk, and actually getting some work done. I can just blog about it. I may have to live to 150 to finish all my lists; and that’s assuming that nothing comes up in the meantime to be added to any one of them.

find nutritionist and get an appointment
microchip change of address
changes of address
transfer med records
update calendar & cell phone
list of scripts (new) to Jackie and Dr. Henry
change insurance agent
find local coffee shop or for writing
find source for Lactinex
find out how much to drop or change Direct TV
return Anytime key
get glasses fixed & change contact info
laptop hook up
new ISP?
job hunt
sell stuff/thrift store donations
house papers to Sharon
send photos to Jan—does she even want them? (this one has been on the list for at least 7 months)
new drivers license and license cars
call phone company about bill (drop?)
find ISP wireless router
list of shit for Stan
finish cleaning up back yard
shelves and box for “kittystrad”
finish unpacking kitchen boxes
change cell number?
call in scripts
job applications
find 2010 pay statement
remind Jack about Doug’s b’day
remind Jack about hospital survey
get car detailed
learn Excel
mail mom’s card
trade closets (upstairs/downstairs bedrooms)
clean out garage
remind Jack to hang new towel racks
laundry (this item lives on the list)
remind Jack to hang mirrors in LR & BR
remind Jack to rehang fish sculpture
remind Jack to put on new shades in DR & LR

to be continued . . .


The publishing part of the story started with an email a few weeks ago from Sue Shellenbarger, the Work & Family columnist at the Wall Street Journal who had read the post at HubPages and was interested in interviewing me for a piece she was doing on people who made lists. We corresponded and then talked and the result was a great column she wrote for the WSJ on December 28, 2012, in which I was briefly mentioned and one of my daily lists (cleaned up for public consumption because who wants the world to know that I needed to shop for new underwear?) was printed with one of Johnny Cash’s! (Who, by the way thought it important to remind himself to pee. And I thought it prudent to remove my need for underwear??)



I'm a writer making my way through life and offering observations as I go. Old enough to know better but that doesn't stop me.

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