Sunday Times

When being is more important than doing

It’s time to ditch the to-do lists and rather choose how you live your life every day,

- writes Mark Barnes

Ineed to start taking to-do lists off my todo list. I first started writing to-do lists when I was at university, at around exam time. As the examinatio­n timetable came close enough to real time for us to no longer be able to put it off as sometime in the future, we used to sit down at our desks and work on our to-do lists — a study schedule, a plan of work to be done leading up to that dreaded exam start date.

As a result, some quite remarkable works of art ended up being Prestiked to the walls above our empty desks — underlines, exclamatio­n marks and all colours of highlighte­r completed the picture — reminding us of the urgency of something that needed to be done. In reality it was a complete waste of time, but we felt as if we’d done something, a bit like the PowerPoint presentati­ons we’re fed so often nowadays. Useless.

We never did much planning or much studying at school. In those days, school was mostly just fun and exams were a mild irritation that you had to get through, mainly so that you weren’t left behind when your mates passed into the next standard and moved up to a higher level of playground privileges and influences.

Getting distinctio­ns in matric, in those days, was a rarity — if you got one or two you were shunned for being a teacher’s pet. If you got six distinctio­ns you were on the front page of the Sunday Times, together with the other 14 people in the country who achieved such a feat — weirdos. The only thing I ever got six of was cuts — six of the best — which I got quite regularly. It may be illegal now, but back then we all felt (and I mean felt!) that it was a fair and final settlement for whatever we’d gotten up to.

These days eight distinctio­ns is the cutoff point for compliment­ary tickets to the Plettenber­g Bay matric rage (only seven for Umhlanga), and the achievers list requires a full supplement. Maybe our kids are just smarter than we are? Spoilt brats.

I still write to-do lists (yes, with a pen, on paper) at least once a week, if only to justify buying those one side ruled page, other side blank paper week-planner diaries. I seldom leave home without one.

What got me thinking about lists was the 2007 movie The Bucket List. I watched it last night. It was made watchable only by the evergreen genius of Jack Nicholson and the also great Morgan Freeman. There were some embedded life lessons and reflection­s mixed into the porridge and I did pause to think of what my list might be.

It’s different if you don’t know how long you’ve got, and I’m definitely in the camp that would prefer death to take me by surprise. We’re mostly going to live longer than we’d like to, but that doesn’t mean you have to wait until you get the six-month notice period to make some choices.

I’m struggling to put together a list of five, let alone 10. I’ve done all the obvious ones — skydiving, parachutin­g, white-water rafting, kissing a beautiful woman (more than one), looking into the loving eyes of a child (I have six children, two grandsons), winning a bar fight, getting arrested (related, catch and release), driving a fast car, getting a double on a guinea fowl shoot, hooking a grown trout (also catch and release), falling off a scrambler at speed, building a functional catapult … I could go on, and the list of mistakes and missed-outs is even longer.

I’m not sure it’s about a list anymore. I think it might have more to do with how you choose to live your life every day — not as if it were your last, but as if it went on forever.

I want to better manage the early-onset grumpiness that’s found its way into my life. I want to be more tolerant, more welcoming, more celebratin­g of people different to me. I want to listen more than I speak (a tough one for me, as my friends and enemies alike will attest). I want to learn more than I think I’m teaching, but I want to teach. I want to be less politicall­y correct — it simply doesn’t work. I want to completely avoid being woke. Spend more time looking at anything but my cellphone. Spend more time with my children. Most of all though, I want to worry less, relax more and find peaceful spaces to play in.

I should follow the advice I give to my children: life is about long stories and short queues. Work hard to get to the front but take risks and be adventurou­s along the way. Take steps, every day, however small, towards yourself, towards who you are.

If you do these things you’ll be a better person and naturally find yourself in good company.

OK, it’s time to write my weekly to-do list.

I should follow the advice I give to my children: life is about long stories and short queues

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