If you believe the little number next to the word “Inbox,” as of this writing, I have 3,982 unread emails in my inbox. In one of my accounts. One of them just says, “9,999+.” At any given moment, I have about five active email accounts, each used for different purposes, and each of which has to be checked semi-regularly lest something get by me.
Needless to say, stuff gets by me all the time. I check my work email a lot more closely than I check my spammy email account (which used to be my main account, so people who are allergic to changing my email in their contacts still send me stuff there.) As a result, things that are actually important don’t get by me often, but what I think is actually important and what the sender thinks are actually important are often completely unrelated things. I mean, every single thing someone wants to tell me is important on some level, but we have to be honest and admit that some things are on fire and need to be doused immediately, and some things are more of a small, controlled burn, or maybe just a little bit warmer than room temperature, and can wait until tomorrow. Or next week.
I have a lengthy, numbered to-do list that I keep on my desk. When something new comes up that isn’t actively flaming, I put it on the bottom of the list. If it is a new thing that is afire and threatens to burn down everything else, then I put it on a special emergency list that gets done first.
Each week I rewrite the list, and re-prioritize what goes on top. Nothing comes off the list until it is done. Some things (like: check email) are repeated on the list because they have to be done again and again and again. For example, in the time it took me to type just this much, seven heretofore unseen emails popped into my inbox. Five of them appear to be spam: one is just normal correspondence, and one may or may not be flammable. This, of course, does not county Facebook and Twitter and Linked In notifications and private messages.
If the thing is on my List (and here I will begin to capitalize the word to emphasize that this is no ordinary list like a grocery list or a bucket list or list of Academy Award Nominees) it will get done. It may be a good long while, but I promise you it will not be forgotten. If it is not on my list, chances are dicey. Sometimes I will wake up at 3am with the sudden realization that something that is about to catch fire is not on the List and I will have to send myself an email to remind myself to put the item on my List before I can try to go back to sleep. Which doesn’t always work, because I know that sometimes emails get by me, too. So I’ll repeat it to myself (emailLisaemailLisaemailLisaemailLisaemailLisa) in the hopes that I might spontaneously remember, which is about half as likely as actually getting the email.
I feel badly for people, often kindly, deserving people, whose related tasks don’t ever seem to get near the top of the list either because they are quiet or the task is relatively unimportant, even though they aren’t. For example, I had the privilege of going to college with the talented sports writer Beau Dure. He wrote a book about women’s soccer (click here) that I wanted an autographed copy of to give to one of my son’s friends for her birthday. I bought the book on Amazon, had it shipped to him, and then he shipped it to me, with my promise that I would reimburse him the shipping. “pay Beau” has been on my List since late April. I actually paid Beau yesterday, which, was July 20th. Beau is a nice guy. Beau is a talented guy. Beau deserved his six bucks plus interest a long long time ago. He didn’t deserve to wait, but he did. I’m sorry it took me so long, Beau, and I’m hoping that this unsolicited plug for your book will help make up for it in some small way.
Keeping track of things is difficult. Between my three jobs, my two and a half children, and things for my own self (like – do something about that unibrow before I scare little children in the streets) there’s a lot of balls in the air, and some of them are going to be dropped. These days I feel like I start most conversations with, “I’m sorry it took me so long to get back to you.”
So, if you are one of the balls in the air waiting to be caught, I’m sorry you’re just dangling there like something out of the Matrix. I know I shouldn’t have thrown so many balls up there, but I did, and there’s no going back now. I can’t unthrow that ball. It is no reflection on you, or your importance in my life, or whether or not you matter in the grand scheme of things. It’s just that some of those balls are grenades, and I have to deal with those first, lest there be civilian casualties.
Really. It’s all about the safety of the children. Or maybe who is yelling at me the loudest. Something like that.
Lori Duff is the author of “Mismatched Shoes and Upside Down Pizza” and the soon to be released “The Armadillo, the Pickaxe, and the Laundry Basket.” You can find more of Lori’s writing, her book reviews, contact information, and more at http://loriduffwrites.com