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I scrawled this item onto my to do list in September, and there it sat for the better part of three months. I was going to Mexico in January and my passport wasn't going to renew itself.
Ten years before, I'd gotten my first passport, booked a flight, saved $1500 in cash from my waitressing job, converted it into two-thirds as many Euros and cavorted across the continent. I was visiting my best friend who'd studied abroad in Paris; we wandered around together in France and then Italy for five weeks. I finally spent my last cent in Venice on pizza, gelato, espresso and wine.
That passport had expired in June. In order to go to Mexico, I needed to get my passport renewed. I knew that. And yet, I put it off. Renew passport scowled at me from the page every time I looked at my list. When I started a new list, I copied and recopied it onto the page.
And yet I would not, could not get it done. The idea of renewing my passport seemed so daunting, so seemingly complex, that I even contemplated not going to Mexico, just to avoid having to renew the goddamn thing.
I was stuck.
Finally, three weeks before my departure, I realized what was happening. Renew passport was not something I could do in one sitting. It wasn’t even something I could do in one day. I had made the all-too-common error of putting a project on a list of tasks.
As I’ve written about before, a task is a discrete action, something that can be accomplished in one sitting, while a project is multifaceted and by definition requires coordination of multiple parts. When you put a project on your task list, you get stuck, too paralyzed to begin because you don’t know where to start. But when you break down a project into tasks, you can take action. And one action leads to more. As poet Kay Ryan says, "Action creates a taste for itself."
This is how you get unstuck.
Renew passport turned out to be made up of eight tasks:
Google “How to renew passport”
Go to my co-working space to print out required forms
Fill out all 1,000 forms
Google which Walgreen’s locations take passport photos
Go to Walgreen’s and have photos taken
Call passport office to schedule appointment
Drive downtown in the cold pouring rain, pay $12 to park, trudge through the rain up to the 10th floor, stand in line, and finally, turn in required paperwork
Wait for new passport to arrive
Progress is simply small actions in concert over time.
So, dear ones, am I the only one who has written File Taxes on their to-do list? Might I encourage us all to cross that off and write a new, better list? One that says things like, “Find shoebox of receipts,” “Organize said shoebox,” and “Call accountant to make appointment.”
Wouldn’t that help you get unstuck?