Joe Pisani’s philosophy of a to-do list

Joe Pisani bemoans the endless cycle of shoveling snow.

Joe Pisani bemoans the endless cycle of shoveling snow.

Joe Pisani /

For as long as I can remember, I’ve kept a “Things to Do” list. Back in Miss McGrath’s seventh grade class, it included homework assignments like “study spelling words, write report on Davy Crockett, learn multiplication tables.” What is 11x12 anyway?

Throughout my professional career, I kept a small pad in my shirt pocket to remind me of things I had to do at work so I’d be eligible for Employee of the Year and get a generous two percent raise ... or maybe it was one percent. Right at the top of my list, I wrote, “Stay away from boss,” followed by “Duck into the men’s room if you see boss coming.”

After I got married, my Things to Do list took on new meaning, at least for my wife, whose list seemed to merge with mine in the spirit of conjugal bliss. (You know what they say — the two shall be as one.) She inspired me, or more accurately, compelled me to add things to my list like “cut lawn, fertilize lawn, weed lawn, learn to love lawn.” There were many other things, but in the interests of brevity, I’ll spare you the details.

The thing about her Things to Do list was that week after week, it was the same. To keep her happy, I created a secondary list, which I labeled “Weekend Things to Do for Wife.”

I eventually upgraded my system. Instead of a memo pad, I started using “jot cards” with my name on them, just in case I forget who I am or lost my list in the Home Depot parking lot. I’m old school and low tech, which means to say I’m not like the young guys who use smartphones with Voice Memos and Notes apps.

With so much time on my hands, I often find myself rewriting, revising and updating my list during the day. This is either the sign of a man who sincerely wants to accomplish something or a man who suffers from obsessive compulsive behavior.

I’ve even begun sorting the things I have to do into categories that include Writing Assignments, Household Chores, Things to Satisfy Spouse, Things I NEED to Do, and Things I WANT to Do. It always gives me a sense of accomplishment to cross off something on my list like “feed the birds” or “bring out recyclables.”

My wife recently asked me, “How come you have so many things to do on your list and do so few things?” I really don’t know. All I know is that my list keeps getting longer and sometimes spills over onto a second card, probably because I started adding things to the list that I won’t be able to do for weeks or years, such as buy a new mattress, have teeth cleaned, have oil changed, schedule annual physical and my favorite ... get a colonoscopy.

One day last week, Sandy grabbed my list to see if she could add something. She immediately spotted “Feed birds.” And promptly told me, “You have to wash those feeders (all eight of them) because they’re covered with bird poop.”

I don’t know about you, but the thought of cleaning caked bird poop off feeders is not very appealing to me, so I quickly moved that chore onto a list I was preparing for 2021.

I’ve discovered that even in quarantine there never seems to be enough time to do the things you want to do — to quote the late Jim Croce. Sometimes it’s a good idea to put down your list, stare into space, watch the birds, say some prayers, listen to music, have a cup of tea, call an old friend or call a forgotten friend.

You see, accomplishing things is a lot like acquiring things. More can be less. If this crisis has taught me anything, it’s that I can do more by doing less. Always remember this — wasting time is not necessarily a bad thing. So at the top of my Things to Do List, I now write “Waste some time.”

Joe Pisani can be reached at