The Done List

28 Feb
Are you ok? NO posts in almost a month!     


Dear Cindy,

Thank you for your concern. Work is busier lately, but the real reason I haven’t posted is because I feel uninspired. I might play around with an idea for five minutes, even write it down, but I can’t seem to focus for the full hour it takes to type it all out. I’m in a rut. Not only do I rarely write, I don’t go out much either. As boring as I fear it might be, I will just have to write about the rut. People  say to write about what you know…

A rut isn’t exactly a hole, so contrary to what would be interesting, my life isn’t dark or mysterious. It rains a lot in my rut, though. This creates a muddy environment preventing escape, similar to the fate of a spider in a bathtub.  Unlike a spider though, I’ve become comfortable and rarely attempt to crawl out. Before you start thinking this is just a creative way to describe a state of depression, let me inform you of some benefits ruts provide:

Rest for your brain. Though it’s possible my brain is just wasting away from disuse, I like to think that it’s taking a nice repose from the stresses of life. Except for at work, I prefer not to think except for matters of prime importance like eating.

Increased savings. Ever since I let my feet sink deep into the rut’s muddy grasp, I’ve saved 40% of my monthly salary each month. At this rate, I’ll have enough for one semester tuition of graduate school when August rolls around. So I’ll only have to take out a $15,000 loan to get the degree. No biggie.

Okay, that’s all the benefits I can think of, but I’ve come to the conclusion that my rut could graduate to being called an exciting turn of events if I could just find my focus. And I think I’ve found a way.

Life can be complicated when you’re making a lot of changes or want to make them. I don’t know about you, but I sometimes drive myself crazy with all the items on my to-do list: learn Spanish, learn Chinese, mail all that crap bought in Thailand, go to the doctor about that pulled muscle, file your Taiwan and U.S. tax return, write the end of year reports, call that one friend back, find someone to translate your apartment problems to the landlord, figure out what you’re going to do with the rest of your life, reply to those emails. See when “call a friend” ends up on the list, you know you have problems.

For some, life is best without lists. Well you people can stop reading now or skip to the bottom where I say what I really think about you. Ideas and tasks wandering around inside the corners of my brain make me anxious, so I choose to write them down. But, as the list begins to get longer and longer, I find it hard to get motivated and focused. I’ve begun ignoring what I need to do and watching really bad TV shows on my computer instead. Now it is clear to me why my grandpa didn’t want to see the doctor about his nose that kept growing in ways that frightened his daughters. Sometimes we don’t have the courage to face things that seem to have a mind of their own. To-do lists are alive, and they are prepared to ruin your Saturdays. But I’ve recently figured out how to take power away from them without kicking them out of the moldy apartment. I recently read about this new thing called a done list. To read the article, click on the link at the end of this post.

At first I was skeptical (and laughing) because it seemed like some sort of pathetic way to trick yourself into believing you had a productive day. Then I tried it and realized it’s just like optimism versus pessimism. Who cares if the optimistic people are wrong, they’re happy. And they’re usually not the ones sitting around watching that one show I keep watching while mold creeps in around them.

So now my to-do list is a menu, like at a restaurant. Some days I eat more than others, but I never expect to order everything or even most things. And each time I indulge in an item from the list, I write it on that day’s done list. Transforming a blank paper into a list of five completed tasks is much more satisfying than looking at 47 items and only eliminating five. And when I complete things that aren’t on the to-do list, the done list is more rewarding to my psyche. For bigger projects involving many steps, my self-esteem and I can keep record of the completed step or two on the done list despite the fact that I can’t check the entire item off yet.

Now I am more prepared and motivated to move forward in “planning my next career” for example. As is obvious, the goal is not quite fleshed out, but thanks to the done list, I have been making small accomplishment like “researched graduate assistantships”.

If to-do lists are your mean algebra II teacher who seems to want you to fail to get back at you for writing notes to Jade instead of listening, then done lists are your encouraging geometry teacher who you could have taken advantage of when she snuck out to have a smoke every class, but you didn’t because she was just so helpful and encouraging, once she returned, when you needed to find the area of that triangle.

If you’re the type who doesn’t need any kind of list, you probably aren’t reading anymore, but just in case you are, I would like to say that I envy your blissful underachiever ignorance.

Leo Widrich’s article about done lists:


7 Responses to “The Done List”

  1. Ed February 28, 2012 at 9:37 pm #

    You raise an interesting point, Emily. I do believe that To Do lists can become overwhelming and therefore self defeating. We all have tasks to get done (big & small) that we tend to ignore or push aside. Then they simply become sources of distraction and anxiety. I shall try this idea of a done list and find out how satisfying it is to write down these completed jobs.

    Good luck to both of us working our way out of that rut!

    Love, Dad

  2. Lenore Klausner February 28, 2012 at 11:43 pm #

    Lenore’s TO DO LIST:

    1. Tell Emily how incredibly funny, wise, perceptive, and authentic she is.
    2. Share with Emily your belief that her writing is so exceptional that even being in a rut sound intriguing
    3. Remember to thank Emily for her recent card and note. Be sure to tell her how special she is.
    4. Send blessings of love and peace to your dear niece, Emily

    Lenore’s DONE LIST:
    1. Done
    2. Done
    3. Done
    4. Done

    Oh, my gosh, I feel better already. Thank you, Emily!

    • Jeanne February 29, 2012 at 10:45 am #

      Great reply, Lenore!

    • Emily Clark March 1, 2012 at 10:54 pm #

      Thank you so much! I’m glad you liked the card and the blog. And if you need any more practice implementing the done list idea, feel free to compliment me some more. Your post put me in a great mood, a mood that a rut is not worthy of.

  3. Jeanne February 29, 2012 at 10:47 am #

    Emily, I have put “Try a Done List” on my “To Do List”. That’s as far as I’ve gotten so far. Is there any hope?

    LOVE this blog! Somehow you manage to cut to the essence of things in a clever and yet meaningful way.

    LOVE you too!

    • Emily Clark March 1, 2012 at 11:17 pm #

      No, there’s no hope. See what you have here is the black hole that is the to-do list swallowing up your would-be escape from it. In other words, you’re that character in the movie who unknowingly tells the bad guy sensitive information, allowing him to cause more damage and increase the length of the movie. Except in that analogy, you’re also the one who gets murdered in the end, or almost murdered; there may still be hope for your daily productivity goals.

      For the record, I think you’re plenty productive. Even if you weren’t, you earned the right to do whatever you want whenever you want or even never. That’s what retirement is about, right? I’m really looking forward to it, so just lie if you need to.

  4. jade March 7, 2012 at 8:54 am #

    well, i am just now reading this blog and thought i’d tell you how entertaining it was but i see a few others have beat me to it. your mom and aunt lenore put it better than i could. can’t wait to see your face face-to-face with my face!!!!

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