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The Mast-Head: The ‘Done’ List

Thu, 09/16/2021 - 09:58

A friend not that long ago suggested that instead of making lists of tasks that I had not had time to get to yet, I make a list of the things that I had actually completed. It was a piece of good advice that spoke to a problem that I think a lot of us share.

Too often we define ourselves by what we aspire to, rather than what we already have. We worry about improving our personal qualities or ticking off items on our hobby or bucket lists without enjoying what we have already accomplished. Rarer still are moments in which we can sit neither wanting more nor desiring something. It is as if we live in a perpetual state of thoughts about what we do not have.

The view could be improved. The grass greener. I’d really like to get these floors refinished. What about that overnight trip to Block Island? Yes, that drip from the kitchen faucet should be dealt with, but fantasizing about what could be maybe after a complete renovation takes us out of the now.

That is where a “done” list helps. “To do” quickly builds up to a seemingly unclimbable mountain. Done is a series of stairsteps up that mountain. “To do” means someday, at best. Done is now.

Of all sources of advice of this nature, my favorite comes from Don Casey’s “This Old Boat,” required reference for people with floating projects, or, as the saying goes, holes in the water that you pour money into. Casey took a priority grid made popular in “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and adapted it. The most important tasks go in the upper-left corner, the least in the lower right. Matters of life and limb are dealt with first, changing the color of the portlight curtains last.

My nearly untouched copy of this spendthrift boaters’ bible came with the 41-year-old Cape Dory sloop I bought last year in Marblehead, Mass. It had been part of the road map of the couple who had owned the boat before me when a health crisis interrupted their plans in about 2010, and the boat and the book had sat in their backyard until I came along.

Following Casey’s practice, I dutifully made out my own grid, spending the winter months reading and thinking about gear for what could be. My friend’s advice came at a critical time, though, and, without thinking too much about it, I got the boat launched with only the essentials. I have sailed a lot this summer, though not to Block Island nor any overnights.

Even though my to-do grid is full and my done list much shorter, it is in the tasks completed that the greatest satisfaction lives.


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