Not knowing shorthand, I could never have qualified for the "Mission Impossible" team. By the time the tape with my instructions had destroyed itself, I would have forgotten half the details of my assignment.
I did adapt to normal life reasonably well, though, in spite of having been born with a mild, but decidedly premature, case of senility. I became a list junkie as soon as I got to college. Things to do . . . dates of one kind or another . . . miscellaneous ideas . . . all got listed (when I remembered to do so).
I can't recall having a security blanket or security toy as a child, but it seems I've always had a security pen or pencil.
I suspect that in the business world, however, my addiction is not rare, but almost universal. The juggling act that most of us perform with a myriad of duties, projects and deadlines forces people with far better memories than mine to rely on lists.
They're comforting. It's better to write something down than to stew over remembering it or, worse yet, forget it.
Unfortunately, they can also be depressing. The typical list of things to do acquires new entries faster than old ones are crossed off.
Years ago I originated one technique for jollying myself a bit. (For all I know, others may have come up with this too, independently, as several brilliant thinkers are said to have done with calculus.) The inspiration: starting a new list with the words "Make list." This gave me one item to cross off before new demands came to my attention.
This was more a perverse form of humor than a breakthrough, of course. It failed to obscure the fact that the treadmill was turning faster than I was climbing.
Once, when I was in the habit of carrying my "office list" around with me, a woman who worked for me glanced at it and actually burst into tears. "It just gets longer," she finally sobbed.
Some time after that I began my present practice of writing office tasks on my desk calendar. This has the apparent advantage of dispersing the list somewhat along a time dimension. I don't have to face the future all at once.
I end up creating a record of the past, however, that's both painful and amusing--when I dare to look back.
Everything prior to today's date has been crossed off, and no one else could tell what I did when from this murky evidence. But I can decipher it. And I can also see a mixture of sensible organization, foolish optimism and occasional silliness.
Some items migrate from one day to the next because I had to work on them in stages. Others do the same because they weren't begun. (Why do I keep assuming there'll be no emergencies or other unexpected interruptions?)
Some items jump from week to week because they are recurring duties. Others jump because I finally got realistic about when I could get to them.
There are also urgency codes. Pencil items and red ink items. Pencil dots and red dots.
And position is a guide to things I must do versus what I must make sure is done on time by others. (That's why some items even appear on both the left and right-hand pages for the same day; there was a dual involvement.)
Pondering all this, I can see my dependency. I can see that I've learned a few helpful procedures for the weak in memory, such as writing down a weekly task or appointment as its next date before crossing it off for this one. But I have no idea how quirky some of my behavior may be.
For some reason, nobody ever talks about this type of addiction. Is it too demeaning to mention? Too trivial to think about? Or was I just the first one to put it down on a list?