By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
On my desk, there are three essential things – my laptop, a computer mouse, and a no-frills, lined pad of paper. Without the computer and mouse, nothing could get done. But without that humble pad of paper where I scribble my to-do list, I wouldn’t remember what needed doing in the first place.
Like millions of others, I’ve been a devoted fan of to-do lists for decades. When the glorious iPhone came along, I added a few digital bells and whistles to the system so I could have a mobile version of the list to take with me. It’s like a security blanket for my brain. For the most important items on the list, I also schedule alarms – which is like giving a to-do list the power to yell reminders at you. It’s annoying, but it usually works.
I wish I didn’t need back-ups on top of back-ups, but often I do. If I don’t write tasks down where I can see (or hear) them, my brain tosses them into a back-alley memory dumpster where they disintegrate like bad bananas.
Last year, I asked my doctor if I should be worried about how easy it is to forget things. He’s a good man and a kind doctor, so he didn’t diagnose me with Moldy Banana Brain Syndrome, as I feared. Instead, he compared my brain to a computer running multiple systems with tons of open tabs. He said my brain has never been as full as it is now, so sometimes it may buffer a bit. Okay, doc. Fair enough. I can compensate.
Between the written list, post-it notes, iPhone reminders, Alexa announcements, and the alarms, I get things done, which feels great. In our culture, productivity is a virtue. Many of us dearly love the satisfaction of marking something off our list. I used to be a checkmark kind of girl, but now I use a black pen to zigzag through each item, like a task assassin obliterating the target.
But here’s a lesson I’m learning more each day: I’d rather be effective than efficient. In a perfect world, we could be both. But in this real world, we often have to choose. Why? Because life happens. Suddenly someone needs help, and help takes time. Someone gets sick, or a friend needs to talk. Or a kid needs your full attention so they’ll remember how much they matter. Or a spouse needs to vent about work before his head explodes. It’s so easy to say we love people but giving them time is the proof.
Time management expert Laura Vanderkam once wrote, “People are a good use of time.” It has become one of my favorite quotes, and I remember it on days when I don’t get as much done as I’d hoped. I’m done beating myself up for not whittling down a list fast enough. If the list has to wait because I chose instead to use time for people, so be it. I’ll catch up eventually, and it’ll be okay.
Because I’d rather be an effective human than an efficient workhorse.
Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her book is available on Amazon.