The High Life

At exactly 4:07pm on Wednesday, April 8 – four days ahead of schedule – I achieved “To-Do List Zero.”(That’s my version of “Inbox Zero” but, instead of an email inbox, refers to the weekly to-do list I write each Sunday that details everything I want to accomplish that week, both work-related and personal.)

I had a shockingly productive Monday and Tuesday and, despite starting to fade earlier this afternoon, kept plugging away at the list items (note to self: where does the idiom “plug away” come from?). I finished the hefty work projects I’d been putting off for days (in favor of responding to one-off emails and chats which made me feel productive but weren’t exactly high-value activities), paid the medical bills that had been piling up on the corner of my kitchen table for two weeks, painted my mom’s birthday card (two weeks ahead of schedule, I might add #bestdaughterever), and put away my laundry.

So it was in the middle of a conference call that I referenced my weekly planner, distractedly planning what to work on next, and saw that all the checkboxes had been…checked off. The ensuing joyful sensation would have been much more gratifying were I not confined to my house with absolutely nothing better to do than immerse myself in work and household chores, but for a moment I experienced the brief high one gets from productivity.

It was in this state – of realizing I’d done everything on my list, but that the list itself was what had given me purpose the past few days – that I drew this quick sketch of the table in front of me:

That is a Joshua-scented tree candle, by the way, gifted to me by my wonderful sister-in-law Maïté. I’ll be lost when it burns out.

And here it is with my “desk” (read: kitchen-table-turned-workspace) for reference:

Having nothing else to do for the day, while daunting and slightly depressing at first, gave way to an appreciation for the opportunity that lay ahead. The world was (almost) my oyster! Like…a tiny oyster! Who’s confined to a small section of ocean! I could read! I could walk! I could cook! I could write (this post)!

And so, at 5:28pm, a few minutes after my last meeting finished, I went outside for a short walk. Because my “office” doubles as my personal reading/writing desk as well as my kitchen table (a multi-purpose function explicitly not advised by any article titled “Helpful Tips for Remote Work”) I make sure to step outside to signal the end of a work day. (Also, on days like today when Thomas and I have a delicious-smelling curry made for dinner in the Crockpot, a short walk is a useful way to kill time so that I don’t eat dinner at 4:45pm.)

I bring my phone only in case of emergency and relish the time away from a screen. When I started going on these short walks after my spinal surgery – always within the same five-block radius of my house – I challenged myself to notice something new on each of them. These walks quickly became the most joyful part of my day.

And, as it turned out, there was absolutely no element of challenge involved in noticing something new each time. There was always an intricately-designed door on some house I’d never noticed; or a few flowers that had bloomed since the last time I walked by; or a street that looked entirely different depending on the weather and how light was reflecting that time of day.

Today, for example, I encountered the following interesting things on my 20-minute walk:

This 40-ounce of Miller High Life perched on top of a garbage can outside of Thee Parkside, which I thought made for a nice little still life.
This box of old records left outside the stoop of a café. I sorted through them and came across this Natalie Cole one, which meant for the rest of my walk I had “Unforgettable” stuck in my head.
And, lastly, the most exciting discovery of all: finally meeting the man who owns my favorite car on the block (an old, pale green Imapla). He had his garage open – it was as cool as I’d expected from the guy who drives an awesome vintage car – and I got to chat with him a little about the current paint jobs he was working on.

I may not be able to travel far these days, but I’m managing to keep things pretty interesting over here in Potrero Hill. That’s all for now; I’m off to Google the history of “plugging away.”

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