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The Cracker Barrel: A lifelong habit

Musings from Pequot Lakes resident Craig Nagel on writing daily to-do lists

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OK. I admit it. For nearly three-quarters of a century, ever since I learned how to read and write, I’ve been a maker of lists.

Yeah, I know. It’s probably a little late in life to be coming out with a confession like this. Why not just keep hiding the fact? Take it with me to the grave?

Three reasons. (A bona fide list requires at least three items.)

  • 1. Having a list gives focus to the day.
  • 2. If something’s not on the list, I might forget about it.
  • 3. If I don’t have a list, I feel lacking in motivation to get things done; you might say listless.

I know, I know. If you, dear reader, are not a list maker, you probably think I’m a trifle on the spectrum. I know this because my wife of many decades thinks exactly that way about me.

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To her, making a list seems a waste of time. Why bother writing stuff down before you do it? Why not just move from one task to the next as the spirit dictates? Whatever gets done today gets done; whatever remains belongs to tomorrow (though I will admit she keeps a list of needed groceries).

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All well and good, assuming you’ve got a good memory. If not, let’s hope you’ve got a caring spouse or close friend like myself to keep you focused.

Waking each morning to an already prepared list of things to do allows you to calmly sip your tea or coffee without any sense of uncertainty about what needs to be done that day. It’s right there on your list.

The only question might be which items to take care of when, and the answer to that might come from looking out the window at the thermometer and the weather.

Some serious, world-class list makers like the famous back-to-the-landers Helen and Scott Nearing fine-tuned their listing by having seasonally repeated tasks color-coded on 3-by-5 cards kept in a recipe box, and further improved their efficiency by detailing which tasks were best suited for rainy days, or hot ones, or cold.

As you might imagine, such attention to planning seemed over-the-top to many of the Nearings’ neighbors, who were accustomed to a more laid-back lifestyle. But thanks to their attention to detail and their habits of planning and organizing their homestead tasks, the Nearings managed to live happily on a lifelong schedule of devoting a mere four hours a day to what they called “bread labor,” or making a living.

But I digress.

Part of the joy of having daily lists comes from the act of crossing them off as each task is completed. For a committed list maker such as myself, there is no greater joy than to X-out every item on the list by the end of the day.

To be truthful that doesn’t happen very often, but when it does the satisfaction is immense, greater even than the happiness that comes from completing the tasks themselves.

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Which, I admit, is rather bizarre. I mean, doing the task itself is obviously far more important than the act of crossing it off the list when you’re done. But some things in life remain mysterious.

Matter of fact, I made a list of them a few weeks ago. Only trouble is, I don’t know where I put it.

Collections of Craig Nagel’s columns are available at CraigNagelBooks.com.

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Craig Nagel, Columnist

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