(Not) Getting Things Done

There is so much to do, I hardly know where to begin. Life these days has become so interrupt-driven that I desperately try to recall what life was like when I was a kid in the late 70s, when the only thing there was to interrupt you was the telephone or the doorbell. Not only is it virtually impossible to finish something I start without interruption (I can’t remember the last time I made it through a 20 minute sit-com without stopping), there is no longer a straight line between two tasks. There are roadblocks and detours all the way.

Take this weekend for example. I’ve been reading Rick Atkinson’s An Army At Dawn, his Pulitzer prize-winning book about the war in North Africa from 1942-1943. There was a passage in there in which Roosevelt, hinting at where he would be making a clandestine trip to, showed a group of friends a new film called Casablanca. I scratched a note to myself to watch that movie again. It has been a long time since I’ve seen it and I’ve mostly forgotten it.

There was lots happening on Saturday. Two basketball games (one for the Little Miss and one for the Little Man) as well as a surprise party to attend in the evening. At some point, when I had five minutes, I started to look to see if Casablanca was playing on any of the streaming services we subscribe to. That led me, somehow, to The Dick Van Dyke show, and I was reminded that we never finished watching the last season and a half or so. I decided I wanted to finish that, and made a note of it.

My search took me back to the Apple store, and there I saw that Rambo: Last Blood was out. I’d seen the first movie years ago, but never any of the others. I was curious, but it seemed silly to jump and watch the fifth movie when I’d barely seen the previous four. It turned out, however, that there was a special on the 5-pack and it was ridiculously cheap, so I bought it. I set about watching the first several movies, always fragmented. I never watched one straight through. On Sunday, I watched the last two. I was, of course, no closer to Casablanca.

Atkinson’s book reminded me that I wanted to re-read Andy Rooney’s My War. I read it when it first came out, and I thought it was a great memoir of the war years as a reporter for Stars and Stripes. A few years ago, I read Timothy M. Gay’s Assignment to Hell which was about many of the WW-II reporters, Rooney included. So I decided to start reading it, and put Casablanca on the back-burner. At this rate I’ll be lucky if I ever manage to see the movie again.

My desk is cluttered with pages of lists torn from a yellow legal pad. One list one do it these days. I have a list for things to do today, a list of things I need to get done for a work project, a list of things to do around the house. I wanted to go to the store today to get some WD-40 because the bathroom door has been squeaking. But it rained much of the day and I decided I would squeeze in some extra walking before it became too rainy to go outside. I never did get the WD-40 and the door is still squeaking.

There are all kinds of systems that purport to tell you how to better manage your time. I’ve tried many of them, and am suspect of all of them. Instead of getting things done, I am learning systems. I’ve come to the conclusion that feeling busy is not the same as being busy. I am busy at this moment, as I write this. I am busy writing. Feeling busy is the sense of utter chaos at everything you have to do, coupled with the knowledge that it is hopeless. There’s no way you’ll get it all done.

I managed to write this entire post without interruption. That’s not saying much, since I was supposed to be cleaning off my desk so that it wouldn’t be so cluttered when I start work in the morning. That’s okay. I’ll clear off my desk in the morning, in order to avoid some other task that I should be doing instead.


        1. The entire series is available on Audible. I listed to the audiobook, and what’s more, the first volume, An Army at Dawn is narrated by one of my favorite narrators, George Guidall.


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