Argh, my lovely week off nearly gone. At least, it’s already Thursday, and all that Halloween stuff to sort out, costumes, the treats, somehow a big sleepover. And I am a massive list maker, and my list is not even half crossed off.
Part of this is the trade of for spending several days away. I yearn for deep countryside at this time of the year, autumn colour and stars but, failing that, a mini break in one of my favourite cities was fabulous. Do you recognise it? The picture above is not even mine – because I managed to wipe all my shots from my phone. Me and photos… It’s generally a disaster.
But my beloved to-do list. Lists are my way—okay, one way—to manage stress, my structure for non-working days, my aide memoire, progress tracker, a way of being accountable to myself, and to the kids.
Which means there has to be a flip side, an opposing tension. It bugs me, this incomplete list, mind going over the outstanding items.
There is something called the “Zeigarnik effect”, apparently. It’s named for the twentieth-century Lithuanian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik, written up in her work “On Finished and Unfinished Tasks” in 1927. Dr. Zeigarnik demonstrates, very roughly put, that we remember tasks that are incomplete or were interrupted far better than those that we completed in full. In fact, participants who had their tasks interrupted were able to recall details of them around 90% better than those that had been allowed to complete the same tasks. Instructing the participants not to think about the tasks was no help (surprise). Only if and when we have satisfactorily delivered an undertaking, it seems, can the brain let it go. If not, be prepared for that internal pestering.
So there my bulleted items sit, with three days to go: finishing my job application, even starting my passport application*, the painting (stairs, not art), sorting, book reviews, catching up with personal admin. Some are just impossible – that set of chapel chairs will forever be stacked in the basement I think, most resolutely un-upcycled, making themselves rather less of a bargain.
And at the bottom of the list, followed by a faltering question mark: Writing? Weeks out of routine now, sporadic little bursts only. Are me and NaNoWriMo, November’s National (in the US, but spread beyond its shores) Novel Writing Month ever meant to be? 1st November tomorrow, and I don’t want it to be the day of the dead objective. NaNoWriMo sets goals, offers structure, yet also reassures, sets out to empower – it should be the perfect opportunity. If I only get around to it.
*Though I may be procrastinating on the passport application, to be honest – because presumably I’ll get one of the pre-EU navy UK ones rather than the burgundy passport of these many past years. And I think I will weep.
‘The Zeigarnik Effect Explained’ in Psychologists’ World,
retrieved 31 October 2019.
Duncan Kidd at Unsplash
Kelly Sikkema at Unsplash