Every New Beginning Comes from Some Other Beginning’s End

(Title courtesy of “Closing Time” by Semisonic.)

I’m at the nexus of a bunch of temporal landmarks — my kid just graduated high school, I’m leaving 13 years of PTSA board service (why yes that is highly correlated), there are some Big Work Things (some just normal as part of the end of the fiscal year, some delivery related and no I won’t talk about it just yet), we just passed the Summer Solstice which for me is when there is maximum daylight in my house to highlight all the cleaning I can do, and so forth.

Much as I am driven by points-for-points-sake (I’m looking at you, Apple Watch Fitness) I am driven by temporal milestones. Each morning there’s a fresh list for the day, each Monday there’s a fresh list for the week, each first there’s a set of goals for the month; these could be personal (hey, I washed my walls last weekend) or professional (I will finally take that training/do that brain dump/write that documentation). I have legitimately written “get coffee” on a morning’s to-do list so I can have something to check off, on the more challenging days. Oftentimes when people ask me how my weekend went I find myself judging it against the list of things I had for the weekend (those things can include hobby time, it’s not all chores and emails) and producing a qualitative score on it (“productive”, “okay but there’s still stuff left to do”, “I feel like I got nothing done”).

The Fresh Start Temporal Effect is a normal human thing, we all have degrees of it. Have you ever set a New Year’s resolution, or made a list of improvements after you got a divorce/out of rehab/broke up with someone/moved? That is that. We all have that and it’s just like anything else we all have, it hits in degrees. For me, I have to make sure it doesn’t override the realities of day to day life.

I remember one time I was changing jobs and I made a whole list of things I wanted to get done in the week off between jobs (it was a change not only of role but of companies, so there were no residual emails or “hey how do I…” questions to attend to). I started crafting that list a month before I left my former job, by the time my week off had rolled around the list had got crammed into weekend lists and I found myself having done most of what I had “reserved” for the week off, ahead of the week off. I spent my first day of the week off, making a list for the week off.

To someone who’s got different temporal milestones — maybe you are a per-quarter person, maybe it’s strictly New Years for you; maybe you look at Fiscal years or Lunar years or maybe you go based on the rhythm of your kids’ school or your work sprints — this can be jarring, or even exhausting to watch. There’s a potential for comparison of milestone lists — somehow if I compare my week to your quarter I feel unproductive or I feel stressed by the volume of work I feel like I should be doing in comparison. Those of us who have more frequent milestones are probably unaware of this effect (I was, until very recently); those of us who have less frequent milestones should take care to do a sanity check. (Think of it like a task-based “keeping up with the Joneses” — we’re not comparing purses or lattes or cars or hedgerows, we’re comparing productivity… and this gets back to the “always busy” mindset, which is comfortable for some and not others.)

Because I’m at this nexus of a bunch of milestones, my lists are all coming to a head this week. If I tick down them things are getting done, but I feel like I’m at a precipice and unsure what it’s going to feel like when the last thing is checked off. Predictably I have a new set of lists, but they’re looking awfully sparse. I had better add “list review” to my list for today.

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