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Renew passport.

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?

Much love,