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Why men don’t make ‘to do’ lists

By G.D. Maxwell Summer, especially the height of summer, is a particularly difficult time of year to focus your mind to any one task at hand.

By G.D. Maxwell

Summer, especially the height of summer, is a particularly difficult time of year to focus your mind to any one task at hand. Naturally, this soft focus is exacerbated if you’re male, males having difficulty at the best of times focusing on only one thing. Or is that any one thing? I don’t claim to understand the phenomenon; I only comment on its existence.

I also don’t claim Male Pattern Distraction to be an affliction ravaging every single male in the world. There may be one, maybe two for whom distractions arising from a less than laser-like focus are not the norm. But I think that’s what they mean when they say the exception proves the rule. If you’re male and don’t suffer from MPD, my apologies. Now let your mind dwell on how abnormal you are while you try to get back to what you claim you were focusing on before you distracted yourself reading this piffle.

Having been laid low most of my life by MPD, I suffer through the height of summer by setting suitably modest expectations for each and every day. My coping mechanism is to distract myself every time I notice today’s To Do list getting longer than one or two items. It’s not that I’m lazy – well, okay, maybe I’m lazy – or get nothing at all accomplished. It’s just that I know most of the things I’ll wind up doing are unlikely to make the list if I ever got around to actually making it in the first place.

For example, just to make life more challenging at Smilin’ Dog Manor, I have what passes for a workshop. I call it DistractionLand. But if whatever I’m working on is much larger than a chair, I use half of the garage as a work space. The garage is maybe 80 metres from DistractionLand.

There is a variant of Murphy’s Law that states: Whenever you are working in more than one place, the tool you need at the moment is in the Other place.

Having mixed up a pot of epoxy to strengthen something or other I was working on in the garage – something not on the To Do list – I wound up with leftover epoxy, enough to do some other task for which half an ounce of epoxy is just the perfect amount. I remembered a broom with an infuriating handle that couldn’t be tightened because its hole had been stripped. Perfect.

Except I was sure it was in DistractionLand, it being the broom that belongs there. I figured the slow setting epoxy would remain liquid for another 10 minutes or so and set off to find the broom. Steps from the garage, I noticed a thuggish crow doing its cagey crow best to talk an otherwise peaceful sparrow into sneaking through a gap in the mesh around Strawberry Fields Forever and stealing some fruit. I readjusted the net, found a misshapen stone and threw it at the crow.

Steps further, I noticed a tomato plant drooping a bit and tightened its support. Then I wondered whether it was drooping because it needed water in the unrelenting heat, found the watering can, filled it from a nearby hose and watered the tomatoes. Noticing the watering can – plastic – was leaking from a small hole, I thought I’d fix it next time I had some leftover epoxy, which reminded me that’s exactly what I was doing before I got distracted.

With renewed vigour, I set out again for DistractionLand. Halfway there, I stumbled over a pair of pruning shears I’d left near some wild roses I’d intended to prune before I got distracted doing something else, very likely pulling rose thorns from under my fingernails. Wanting to avoid any unpleasantness about leaving tools lying around where they’d rust before disappearing completely, I picked them up. I honestly believed dropping them off at the garden shed wouldn’t be too much of a distraction from the task at hand. However, in the garden shed, I discovered I’d only gotten halfway through making a shambles of it before something else distracted me from either making a full shambles of it or deshambling it, whichever it was I was doing at the time, a puzzle since I couldn’t even remember when I started whatever I’d only gotten halfway through doing in there.

I moved enough things around to get to the shelf where the pruning shears live when they aren’t lying somewhere in the yard and put them Where They Belong. I started deshambling the pots and pails when I saw a broom leaning indolently against a wall. It wasn’t the broom I was going to epoxy but it reminded me of my mission and I set off once again for DistractionLand.

I believe there’s a place for every tool and every tool belongs in its place. I also believe it’s up to the tools themselves to adhere to that rule. There is no rule for wood shavings except they are the single best thing in the world to start a fire. Which is why I diligently sweep them up and store then in plastic bags. I currently have enough wood shavings to start fires into the next century.

But it is unusual of me to leave several inches of shavings on the shop floor. That depth of shavings tends to hide the tools lying on the floor awaiting divine intervention to put themselves away. So I reached for the broom to sweep them up into yet another plastic bag.

The broom wasn’t there.

That’s when I remembered the shavings were on the floor of DistractionLand because when I went to sweep them up – right after I’d made them several days ago – the broom wasn’t there.

It was in the garage.

With renewed focus I headed back to garage. Before I left DistractionLand, I stuffed my pockets with several grades of sandpaper I thought I’d need, a carbide scraper to remove the epoxy that would surely drip and run where I didn’t want it to drip and run, and the block plane I stumbled over where it was hiding underneath the shavings it, not me, was responsible for making.

My only distraction on the way back to the garage was to check the level of propane left in the tank and gratuitously toss a couple of stones at crows sitting on the fence plotting their next antisocial act.

The broom was sitting in the garage, maybe three feet from where this adventure began. The pot of epoxy was sitting on the work table, hardened to a solid block. The piece of wood I’d epoxied to strengthen was curing on the table, its runs and drips having pooled on the table’s surface, to which it was now bonded fast.

None of this was on the To Do list.