bulletin board, but I pulled it all down and moved it into a file labeled “Upcoming events and invitations.” I was no more or less organized than before, but our visual chaos dropped.
I’d dreaded doing the clutter clearing, because it seemed like such an enormous job, and it was an enormous job, but every time I looked around and saw the extra space and order, I registered a little jolt of energy. I was thrilled with the improved conditions in our apartment, and I kept waiting for Jamie to say, “Boy, everything looks terrific! You’ve done somuch work, it’s so much nicer!” But he never did. I love my gold stars, so that was disappointing, but on the other hand, he didn’t complain about lugging five hundred pounds of stuff to the thrift store. And even if he didn’t appreciate my efforts as much I’d expected, it didn’t really matter; I felt uplifted and restored by my clutter clearing.
TACKLE A NAGGING TASK.
Unfinished tasks were draining my energy and making me feel guilty. I felt like a bad friend because I hadn’t bought a wedding gift. I felt like an irresponsible family member because I’d never gotten a skin cancer check (and I have the superfair skin that comes with red hair). I felt like a bad parent because our toddler, Eleanor, needed new shoes. I had an image of myself sitting in front of a hive-shaped laptop, while reminders in the form of bees dive-bombed my head, buzzing, “Do me!” “Do me!” while I slapped them away. It was time for some relief.
I sat down and wrote a five-page to-do list. Writing the list was sort of fun, but then I had to face the prospect of doing tasks that I’d been avoiding—in some cases, for years. For the sake of morale, I added several items that could be crossed off with five minutes of effort.
Over the next several weeks, I doggedly tackled my list. I had my first skin cancer check. I got the windows cleaned. I got a backup system for my computer. I figured out a mystery cable bill. I took my shoes to be reheeled.
As I grappled with some of the more difficult items on the to-do list, though, I faced a discouraging number of “boomerang errands”: errands that I thought I was getting rid of but then came right back to me. Eighteen months overdue, congratulating myself on crossing the task off the list, I went to the dentist to get my teeth cleaned, only to discover that I had decay under one filling. I had to return to the dentist the next week. Boomerang. After months of procrastination, I asked the building super tofix our bedroom wall light, but it turned out he couldn’t do it. He gave me the number of an electrician. I called the electrician; he came, he took the light off the wall, but he couldn’t fix it. He told me about a repair shop. I took the light to the repair shop. A week later, I picked it up. Then the electrician had to come back to install it. Then the light worked again. Boomerang, boomerang, boomerang.
I had to accept the fact that some nagging tasks would never be crossed off my list. I would have to do them every day for the rest of my life. Finally I started wearing sunscreen every day—well, most days. Finally I started flossing every day—well, most days. (Although I knew that sun exposure can lead to cancer and unhealthy gums can lead to tooth loss, focusing on wrinkles and bad breath proved to be more motivating considerations.)
Sometimes, though, the most difficult part of doing a task was just deciding to do it. I began one morning by sending an e-mail that included only forty-eight words and took forty-five seconds to write—yet it had been weighing on my mind for at least two weeks. Such unfinished tasks were disproportionately draining.
An important aspect of happiness is managing your moods, and studies show that one of the best ways to lift your mood is to engineer an easy success, such as tackling a long-delayed chore. I was astounded by the dramatic boost in my mental energy that came from taking care of