Doing Things

I had coffee with my friend Miriam the other day. As we sat down with our cups at a local coffee shop, she said proudly, “This is my fourth thing today.” Miriam is a poet and a wonderful, rambling thinker. I was intrigued. What do you mean a “thing” I asked her.

She explained that every day she does ten things. They can be fun things, hard things, boring things, any kind of thing. (I was relieved to hear that our coffee was a “fun thing.”)  She seemed to want to explain, with nervous laughter, why she did ten things each day, but I was already way ahead of her. Each day would have an order, a calculation, each thing I did would have a legitimacy – it would be a “thing.” No more would I slog through the day and wonder at the end, “what was that all about?” I would have a mental list of things that I did, proof of a good, productive day.

I wanted to learn more about the “thing way of life,” so I might master it myself. Would eating breakfast count as a thing, or feeding the cats? No, she said, those are just what you do every day to survive, or to make your cats survive, those do not qualify. Same with shower, reading the paper, watching the news. What about watering plants? I do that about once a week, not every day. Would that be a “thing”? This was a gray area, she confessed. If you needed to round out your list to meet your quota, then she guessed you could count watering plants. For further edification I asked what the first three things were that she had done that day. They included a phone call to an insurance company, cleaning out a cupboard, and taking a walk. I asked what she did if it was bedtime and she had only done eight things. “I read two or three pages in a book and knit a few rows of whatever I’m working on. And voila, I’m at ten!”

This is not me, but I thought she deserved to have a little coverage for all her hard work….several things, I would say.

I imagine that I have lost some of you by now. We obsessive types can be fascinating to ourselves and irritating to others. Sorry, but I’m going to plow ahead.

Needless to say I jumped into the thing system with great enthusiasm, choosing eight things as my target for each day. The first day I couldn’t wait to darn a sock and hem a pair of pants that had been waiting for months to get my attention. (I had to email Miriam to check whether or not I could count the sock as one thing, and the pants as another thing. She said I could, but that each pant leg could not be counted separately.)

As the days went on I found that I was getting things done that I had been avoiding. Letters got written. Drawers cleaned out. A jacket went to the dry cleaners. I also realized that I was focusing more on what I was doing. “Ahh, I am re-potting an orchid. That is thing # 6.” Or, “Out for an enchilada tonight – what a fun thing.” By identifying the activity as a thing, I had a relationship with it that I didn’t have before. I began to understand what Andy, the guy on my meditation app, had been talking about: “During the day, notice what you are doing. Make it your focus. Even if it is something very simple, be aware of it, pay attention to it.” So for me, the “thing way of life” is not only practical and efficient, it verges on the spiritual.

Today is the last day of the month and I am wrapping up my blog, thing #7 for the day. I am thinking that I can count the blog as one thing and writing the notification email to my subscribers as another thing. If Miriam says no, then I will have to do an eighth thing before I go to bed. I could fold the laundry? Write a letter to my congressman? Mix a martini?

Or, I could visit Miriam’s blog site and see what my mentor is up to at:

Japanese lanterns from Miriam’s blog

30 thoughts on “Doing Things”

  1. Great idea. Thank you. My first thing today was making sure the worms were alive in the compost and adding new straw. The second thing was helping one of my favorite clients with her newsletter for free. 🙂

    1. Wow, Hope, I’m your second thing today….and you’re my first thing — calling my webmistress for help! Am on my way to the compost to check on the worms…

  2. Love this, Lucy. I have a friend in Wales who has encouraged me to make a list of things to do, but a list can go on… and on, and there’s always the top thing on the list that becomes a priority before you get to the others. That can be daunting. The idea of ten things a day is brilliant, even if it might make one nervous the closer one gets to bedtime, depending how many of the ten things one has accomplished. Well, are you allowed to do twelve the next day to catch up? HA.


    1. Excellent question, Myv, and one that I posed to Miriam after Roberto asked me if he did an extra thing could he take credit for it the next day. (What a dreamer!) Miriam was clear. No carrying over, either of debt or credit. A day is a day. Move on. And you are so right about lists — I hate them. This is an anti-list system. Although you are keeping a mental tally in your head, you are not bound to a set of things, or an order. They come as they come.

  3. This strikes me as a fine way to get “things” done; to force yourself into productivity. To count coup. I wonder if I could on occasion count a period of doing “no thing” as one of my ten, since it is something I often skip but find quite rewarding.

    1. This is brilliant, Richard. We will see what Miriam has to say, but I say if you are aware you are doing “no thing” and are focusing in a mindful way on it, it counts!

      1. I think doing nothing is also valuable. Compilation, or stillness, meditation, is necessary for this busy, too busy, world. Instead of “doing something”, do nothing. or no thing. Stilling the mind, or just watching a sunset, a sunrise, the snow coming down, are all valuable “things” and I think they should count.

  4. Hi Lucy – as I read, I counted my things for the day. So, I started a rather mind numbing computer data task – definitely 1 thing- then visited a friend (#2) and when I returned, I started the data task again. Can I count it twice? Does it help that I didn’t want to do it at all, especially the second time in one day??

    1. Hmmm. This is a difficult question. I’m hoping that Miriam will weigh in at some point. I am definitely in over my head! I would count it as two…but that’s probably cuz I’m filled with sympathy.

    2. I would count it as two. For a large or daunting task I sometimes just count “getting in” or a tiny first step a sa thing. For example–getting a permit from the city. I counted finding the name of the right person.

    1. Tomorrow’s a great time to start. And you can pick any number of things you think suits you. I’m 8, Miriam is 10, my husband is considering 4 or 5, but he is a very thoughtful person.

  5. Thanks, Lucy. I immediately got up and did some yoga, then even a beautiful sunrise. #1&2, Already feeling positive about today. (ps: am impressed at your computer/posting skills)

    1. I would give myself at least a count of two things if I saw the sunrise. Good for you! And I have a great webmistress, Santa Fe Web Design who holds my hand through many inexplicables along the way.

  6. This is terrific and suits me to a T. On no. 8 for the day and I feel so productive!

    1. So glad to have found another kindred, “thing-y” spirit. There are a lot of us out there. I’m on no. 3 — not bad for a Sunday morning.

  7. On day 2 I’m finding 8 “things” helpful but also list-y. How do you keep track of your 8 “things” without a list?
    If remembering 8 intentions and tracking them is a memory exercise does it count as a thing 😉 ?

    1. I just keep a mental tally, and when I lose track, I go back to the beginning of the day and tick them off…impressing myself immensely. I won’t rule on counting the tracking of them as a “thing”. Above my pay grade.

  8. Maybe all the answers are there already, your friends having weighed in. It’s a conundrum I think. I like the idea that one might choose the right number per day, in which case, given this lee-way, I’m likely to think six. And yes, I’d have to post them on the door as a ‘list’, but since lists usually are in order, with the most important task at the top (to be crossed off first), maybe it could be called something else. Preferably not ‘chores’. Perhaps just ‘to do’.
    Some of the things require extensive time periods, as Kay Monaco noted. I feel that they shouldn’t be crossed off until they are done though. Well, I suppose you could get quite selective and mix up quick to do’s with a couple of weighty enterprises. And if you find yourself not finishing every day, you can just put off the difficult ones. So, nine easy ones and one hard one! Time to take a nap, I’d say! Does that count?! Myv.

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