Making a list of it

19th December 1997 at 00:00
My life is governed by lists of Things to Do. As a woman of many hats - school governor, wife, mother, childminder, autism support group member, writer - my great fear is that one of my alter egoes will make an appointment for me without consulting the others. The diary is essential. So too is the reporter's pad in which I record phone calls to be made, letters to be written, documents to be read, as well as dental appointments, library books to be renewed, roses to be pruned.

Then I lose it. The frequent, anguished cry of "Has anyone seen my notebook?" brings an instant reaction from my long-suffering family. They know I am dependent on the running list. It is not that I have a poor memory, it is just that having written something down, I do not even try to remember it, so I could never reconstruct my commitments without the documentary evidence.

Occasionally, some piece of business presents itself so urgently that it is despatched before I have time to add it to the list. At particularly fraught times, I have been known to start a new list with such an item, recorded and duly ticked, just to reassure myself that I have accomplished something. The really infuriating items are the ones which I tick and then realise weeks later have produced no result: letters unanswered, phone calls unreturned.

Other people are clearly as list-dependant as I am. "I was going to get back to you," they lie, when you finally track them down. "You're on my list. "

I have tried to persuade my children that my system of writing everything down would work for them too, and they tell me yes, it does and continue to rely on me to remember their hockey matches and hair cuts. Then they complain that I am always nagging.

As Christmas approaches, list proliferate, and my master weekly list is carefully cross-referenced with list of presents to be bought, mince pies to be made, cards to be sent and various school functions to be attended as parent, minder and governor. Some of these lists themselves are intricate webs of who-gives-what-to-whom as I try to ensure that my four children provide non-duplicating presents for each other, their grandparents, their father, and me.

My husband has developed the list one stage further. As a devotee of information technology, he has now computerised his list. Like me, he includes home and work obligations, although I notice Christmas does not get a mention. Women's work, obviously. And "must fix cupboards" has been carried forward at least three times.

He works at a large community college, teaching and running the busy resources centre. His job is largely demand-led, providing services for the rest of the staff, so his lists make mine look positively manageable. As an added refinement, he now enters a date by which each task should be completed. If he fails to meet his self-imposed deadline, the item turns red. I cannot quite see why he wants to programme the computer to nag him. That's my job.

Recently a cry of horror brought me rushing to his office (the room I used to call our bedroom in those far-off days when we thought digital watches were really clever). "Look," he whimpered pointing at the screen. "The whole list has turned red!" Fortunately, he came up with a painless solution. He changed all the dates. Now, if we could put Christmas back to mid-February...

Joan Dalton is a governor in the Midlands

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