I spent a lot of time yesterday making lists. Making lists is one of my specialties; I can make a list for any occasion, discussion, event or job - and often do. Yesterday's lists wound up being twelve pages worth of flowcharts and sub-sections, due dates and color-coded keys.
The reason I started making the lists was that I was feeling completely overwhelmed: No matter what I went to do - everything from putting my clothes away to finishing up scrapbook pages had an additional twelve steps that needed to get done before I could even attempt it. Something as seemingly simple as sewing a button onto my winter coat began an unending domino effect of "find the damn needles and thread -> which are still in a box in the cellar somewhere -> I have to get down cellar to go through the boxes till I can find it, but there's snow outside and I have to go outside to get down cellar, which means I can't get downstairs -> so instead just ask someone else to look for the boxes -> but everyone else is doing their own thing already, so now I have to wait for them to have time -> now they are in the cellar, but they can't find the sewing box with the black thread, will pink work -> decide whether or not pink will work on my black wool coat -> Figure that it's not worth it, and continue to go around with an unbuttonable coat in freezing temperatures."
It was all kinds of ridiculous.
So I sat down and started making very detailed lists of all the things that need to happen, according to my full-to-the-brim brain box, relatively soon. Some of the goals were pretty simple, like Stitch the Names on the Christmas Stockings which I have been promising to do for the past three years, but forget as soon as the stockings get packed away with all the other Christmas stuff. This year, I put them in my craft pile, AND they are on my list, so they at least have a shot at getting done. Other simpler tasks include the aforementioned Button Sewing, Putting Pictures on a Camera Card for my mom's digital frame, Hanging up my 2011 Calendar (only 18 days or so late!), and finally get somebody to help me Arrange the Top Shelves of the Bookcases in the Library.
Other goals were more abstract like Have a Comfortable, Usable Bedroom and Be a Better Friend/Family Member, which includes steps like "setting a reminder to make weekly phone calls to people" (because I hate making phone calls, but don't mind it once I'm on the actual phone), and "finally respond to e-mails from three weeks ago". And still other goals are 1000 stepped behemoths that begin with things like "set aside a few hours a week" and end, forty-five arrow lengths later at An Uncluttered and Sensibly Organized Storage Area In The Cellar or Finally Stop Living Out of Boxes .
There are goals that I have to physically do (Call and Make Appointments with Lynne, Zack, and Neurologist ) and goals that rely more on me finally making decisions ( Start Taking New Prescriptions or Call and Say You Don't Want To ). There are goals that have a lot of steps missing, because I am not sure of how to fill them in, most importantly Feel Better and Have Less Pain, but even with out all the intermediate steps, I have starting points for most of these things, something to do or decide or think about that will help me make the next steps.
I didn't realize until I was about 3/4 (and 3 hours) into the process that some of these goals seemed an awful lot like what could be considered New Years Resolutions, even though that certainly was not my goal. Maybe it was the time of year that had so much busyness buzzing around in my brain, but I just needed to get some of it down on paper, get some of it in a place where I could say "Ok, I know that needs to get done, so now I can stop worrying about forgetting it, or never getting to it: It's there, and I'll get to it when I can, one step at a time." And as I was writing the list, and breaking these huge all-encompassing objectives down into their smallest pieces, it made me realize that there were things that I could actually be doing to help me achieve these things. I wouldn't say it made everything less overwhelming (because, hello: please see 12 pages of color-coded lists ), but it certainly made a lot of the stuff seem more doable.
I can't Get all of Last Year's Pictures into Photo Albums today, but I can "label and date a few packages", or "figure out where the extra albums are living". I'm not going to immediately Make Money Selling Extra Stuff , but I can constantly be "weeding out boxes into four piles: Keep Trash Donate and Sell" as I go through them.
And yes, this is not a revolutionary new system of achieving goals that I have created (because if it was, I would please to like my genius check now, thank you), but the same advice those "experts" on tv or in magazines have been giving since they became experts - Break things into managable chunks, or you won't bother doing them. It supposedly works for losing weight, for being organized, for "living the life you deserve," for whatever. I don't know how well it will work for me, in the long run, because I just made my damn lists yesterday, but I will say that it's helped me to think about where I want to wind up, and what kinds of things I can do NOW to help me get there, eventually, someday.
And if there were more blank spaces on the charts then I would have liked (for example, between "talk to Zack" and "start taking wonder drug that fixes everything"), then those are just a part of life - and especially a part of living with chronic illnesses - and I can deal with them when I get there. It's the knowing that I'm in charge of something even if it is as small as "write records request form for Specialist X", that gives me hope, and a sense of control. I might not have any choices about some of the things I have to deal with (hello: Hives; Parents who drink to excess; Living in a house with stairs), but there are still some choices that are only mine to make, and that feels - if totally overwhelming - still pretty damn good.
*Last week's Dear Sugar column