Scribbles from my notebook … it is by looking through some of my old notebooks that I realise I am an instinctive list-maker, scribbler of interesting bits of information, and a planner of sorts. During my teenage years, for example, I made endless lists of the music broadcast on the radio: the song titles as well as the singers. I used to listen to the songs intently and copy down the lyrics – readily available via the internet these days.
It would not surprise me if this teenage activity had a part to play in developing my ability to listen and write a fairly accurate account of what I hear. Fellow students at university would borrow my lecture notes for I would listen and write a summary at the same time, unlike many who struggled to write their lecture notes verbatim. I preferred absorbing what was said to trying to make head or tail of scribbles on the pages afterwards. This is a skill I continued to use throughout my working life when writing minutes or noting main points or ideas on a board during workshops or meetings.
I found it a schlepp having to think about what to cook when I first had to fend for myself. My inner planner-cum-list-maker came up with the idea of planning meals for the week ahead – and even beyond if the mood was right. I added ideas I had either seen elsewhere or noted meals I had enjoyed when eating out. I still do this and find it useful when compiling my weekly shopping list. It also means I can change meals around, swap dishes or even scrap them at will according to circumstances or the availability of ingredients.
As a teacher, planning ahead and making lists were essential for the smooth-running of my lessons. I have taught at pre-primary, primary, and senior school level as well as at university and developed the habit of planning the outline of lessons very early in my teaching career and it served me well until my retirement after forty years in the education field. As with meal planning, this meant I could keep track of what needed to be done and could easily change the order of my lessons according to prevailing circumstances.
There is so much more to teaching than planning for and delivering lessons. Apart from marking assignments, one had to keep track of the progress of individuals, write reports, attend meetings, participate in extra-mural activities, plan or prepare for concerts, debates, dances and even special dinners. In a way, my career in education at all levels trained me to move at an intense pace: so much needed to be fitted into every day – and then there was the upkeep of our home and the welfare of our family to consider.
List-making became compulsive, not only for work-related issues, but for the endless number of things that need attention at home. How else would I get round to clean windows, wash the kitchen floor, do the ironing, tackle the mending pile or get to clear the outside drains? Then there is my compulsive daily list of the birds I see in our garden …
Planning ahead not only requires a list, but a ‘work diary’ or calendar. I would, for example, note various submission dates and work backwards from there to ensure that marks, reports and so on would be completed in good time. I brought this intense pace and self-inflicted to-do lists into my retirement. For the first few years I remained enslaved and allowed the lists to commandeer my days away – even feeling guilty if I got ‘lost’ reading a novel mid-morning. In fact, at first, I would ‘ration’ myself to reading only one chapter at a time because my lists were a constant reminder of so many other tasks demanding my attention. The beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown saw me spinning into overdrive in terms of being so very busy that the days hardly seemed long enough.
I doubt if my ‘work diary’ will ever empty or that my to-do lists will ever end. I am, however, gradually learning to take time to do more of the activities I enjoy, such as reading, watching birds, taking photographs, and writing. Seven years into retirement, I no longer feel enslaved, and have at last accepted that not everything can be done in a day … there is always tomorrow!