My dear friend, Lisa, told me a story about a colleague she once had whose habit it was to, each Friday afternoon when the workday came to a close, pull a trash can up to the side of his desk and swipe everything on it into the trash. His argument was that whatever project/correspondence/etc from that pile of paper that ended up in the trash was important, someone would certainly bring it back to his attention when the next workweek began and that if no one brought it back to him, then it clearly wasn’t that important nor worth any additional time or attention.
I LOVE this.
There are lots of reasons that this habit isn’t perfect and we could spend all day arguing about its merits and shortcomings. But conceptually, it is GOLD. He clears his desk each Friday afternoon and comes back each Monday to a fresh start and a clean workspace, uncluttered by last week’s unfinished business. His energy is free to apply to whatever is before him today. It also puts the burden back on whoever’s “baby” a given project is to follow up. This likely falls into both the merit AND shortcoming category of the method (we’ve all had to chase people down over and over ad nauseam to get them to finish something they’ve committed to, which seriously sucks). But it’s kind of the ultimate “no” isn’t it? How often does your daily to-do list include tasks that aren’t really yours but you’ve somehow ended up accepting responsibility for? People are really, really good at passing off to others things they don’t want to do. Sometimes this looks like work projects, but sometimes this looks like chasing down the random socks your kids have left all over the house when you go to do laundry, or dishes mysteriously left in the sink, or bills left unpaid. Figuring out how to say no to work that isn’t truly mine is one of the great projects of my life, so any metaphor that helps me “clear my desk” is welcome in my world.
We leave New Hampshire in less than 48 hours. I haven’t done any laundry or sorting or packing. I haven’t caught up my bookkeeping or set up my autoresponders or checked in with my insurance company to confirm my coverage as we travel. I don’t have next week’s post planned (or even any idea of where I’ll get internet to make sure it goes up on time). I haven’t marked a single line item off the enormous to-do list I created on my plane ride home from Texas on Monday. I’ve spent the last 24 hours brainstorming a personal project and shooting a few final photos of this little town and catching up with some last minute friends and family. I’m sure I should be worried by now. I’m sure I’m going to inconvenience someone with something I haven’t gotten to. I’m sure some piece of unfinished business will come back to bite me in the ass.
But I’m officially "clearing off my desk" right now.
What is important will most certainly make itself known. What must get done will certainly get done. And the rest will wait. It will simply have to. As it turns out, I am not a neurosurgeon on call who is the sole person able to perform life saving brain surgery. I’m not the president. I am not doing cutting edge cancer research. I write words and take photos for a living. I love this work and I love my clients and I have goals and dreams attached to all of what I do that require time and energy and discipline and attention. But no one dies if whatever is on my to-do list doesn’t get done.
So right now, I’m deleting my to-do list. It’s gone. When I finish writing these words, I will hit “publish” without going back and revising or second-guessing. Which is not ideal and not the way I generally work. But today, it’s the reality. I'm metaphorically (and, well, not-so-metaphorically actually) shoving what's on my desk into the trash bin.
I want to drive away from here in 48 hours without lugging a bunch of burdensome baggage along with me, without having my brain still attached to what didn’t get finished. I want to drive away and apply my energy to what is before me, to what is at hand. I want to start my “Monday” fresh and free and with a clear “workspace” to fill with what is important in this moment. When we eventually land wherever it is we are going (we don’t have a next assignment yet, so our plans extend only as far as retrieving Kippee from Reno), I will once again sit down and see what is still asking to be done (*cough* bookkeeping *cough*). But in the interim, I will enjoy my free “weekend” knowing that my desk is clear.
A little piece of South Dakota, y'all...