Sunday, February 6, 2011

Motivation to Clear the To-Do List

This morning my husband did something that frustrates and irritates me as a wife but fascinates me as a writer.  I absolutely don't think this is the appropriate venue to criticize my spouse, so I apologize in advance.

With a simple to-do list in hand, which he requested, and an asterisk marked next to each of the simplest yet most urgent things that have been ignored for weeks, my husband decided to do something not on the list.  He did it to make me happy.  He attacked the plumbing in the kitchen sink.  When he turned off the cold water to the faucet, the valve broke.
I don't understand the physics of it, but whenever a valve is turned in our 30-something year old house it is guaranteed to break.  This is why I told him I would call the plumber.  Calling the plumber was at the top of my to-do list, not because I think he isn't competent to replace a faucet, but because the nature of plumbing seems to be that it is never easy and takes literally hours, even for the most skilled plumber. 

It's Sunday, a sacred day for plumbers, a day no help could be found.  After 10 years working in IT, I am a natural at risk assessment.  My mind came up with worst case scenarios.  The replacement part for the valve might not be the right size.  The main water shut off valve could break too.  If he can't fix it and the temperature drops tonight, the pipes could rupture.  How will I brush my teeth?!! 

On top of all this panicking about whether he will eventually be able to fix the valve (which I have to say was not the issue with the sink to begin with), my kids and I all needed showers before we went out for lunch and bowling with friends at noon, which we had planned for several days.  We needed to leave at noon to be sure the baby could get a nap.  Friends were on their way.  By noon, my husband had hope.  Before 1:00, he had success and soon everyone was out the door, except for me - I stayed back to give the babes a nap.

My irritation with this Sunday morning drama is probably clear, but what is fascinating is what motivated him to go rogue and take on something that he didn't even need to do, while leaving the list of easy yet urgent things mostly untouched.  As a writer, I am thinking of writing a story about a guy who has a list in his hand and does anything else, anything to avoid doing the list.  Does following the list make this character (not my husband of course) feel like he has no free will?  Does it make him feel like he has no control?  And would it make a difference if he made the list instead of someone else? 

It seems to me that there are two kinds of people in terms of motivation.  There are people who have a need to get the things on the to-do list done first before they can relax enough to do what they want to do.  I fall into this category - I cannot write or chill out or enjoy anything until everyone's needs are met, even if these needs are simply laundry, a clean carpet, or a tidy place for us all to play a game of cards.   On the other hand, if my husband or anyone else told me what to do, I too would want control over it.  I would say, "Don't tell me what to do," even if it was something I already planned to do.

The other side of this seems to be people that don't need to knock off the to-do list before they do other things.  It's really curious to me, and I certainly haven't figured it out.  My daughter has a similar behavior pattern - if she is asked to make her bed and put away her clothes, often the closet gets cleaned out first.  It's great for her to clean out her closet - but the bed still didn't get made. 

This personality type definitely would make for an interesting character in a story, someone so different than me.  As a writer, I would need to write from a third person perspective, no omniscience whatsoever, and watch what happens while I write it, leaving me and the reader to figure it out on their own or maybe just guess.  I wonder if I could pull off writing with a lead character so different than me - it would be fun to try.  But first I need to finish the dishes.

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