Want To Do versus Can Do – Relearning the Lesson

Every year, I have to come up with a work plan for the next year.  It’s  a list of projects, along details about equipment, personnel, money, and timing.  There’s a “must get done” list and a secondary “like to do if possible” list of things that aren’t critical, but would be nice to do if everything falls into place.   In general, I have a good idea of what I’m going to be doing, and when.  There are years where I’ve not only gotten the “must do” list done, the “like to do” list has been run through and I’m having to come up with something else.  Those are the good years.   The more usual case is that I get the “must be done” list and several things on the “like to do if possible” list completed.  This was not one of those years.

Things got off to a bad start when winter decided to hang on.   “Normal” is that the snow is mostly melted off by early April, but every now and then you have a case where Spring is delayed.  This was looking to be one of those years,  because by the middle of April we still had a few feet of snow on the ground, occasional snowstorms, and the lakes were still covered with ice.  Which meant reshuffling plans, because you can’t take boats out if the lakes are frozen, and getting into some of the areas was next to impossible because of the snow.  That was annoying, but not unexpected.  What was unexpected was that a tropical warm front carrying large amounts of rain would strike.  Within 48 hours,  not only had temperatures gotten warm, we had 5-7 inches of rain, and all the snow melted.  The result?  A 500-year flood.

That meant that most of our starting  plans went out the window and had to be seriously re-vamped.  It wasn’t until the middle of June that many things we normally have completed by  early May were getting finished.   What didn’t help was at that same time, one of our senior field people decided to take another job, leading to even more scrambling.  If you wondered why I decided to put this blog on hiatus around that time, that was why.   Despite that, July and August were actually pretty good from the weather/work standpoint.  It looked like we’d be on track to get at least the “must be done” list finished, when Hurricane Irene appeared.  Although we didn’t get the damage that other areas did, we still got a lot.   Many back roads and trails washed out, and huge numbers of trees down, making many areas inaccessible.  The remnants of Tropical Storm Lee didn’t help matters.

The end result was that we didn’t quite manage to get to everything we’d planned on doing.  Not just the “would like to do” stuff, but the “must do.”   It was a repeat of an object lesson:  That no matter what your plans were, how much you wanted to accomplish,  you may end up doing what you can.

I’ve had enough experience with that to make me a pragmatist.   As I said back in June 2010, in “Fantasy versus reality,” :

Ideals are wonderful things, but there’s also reality.    In reality one has to deal with things like budgets, time management, competing interests, and rules.

In politics – and in life –  there’s a difference between what you may want to do, plan to do, and what you can do.

Those are the basic problems every President faces.  They all enter office with a plan, a list of things they want to do.  But those realities and limitations often mean that it’s a case of what they can do instead of what they wanted to do.  Even then, whatever they hoped they were going to do when they ran is not always what they end up doing.  The world has a way of coming up with problems that were not foreseen.

It’s a lesson that has apparently escaped most of the “professional pundits” as well as various bloggers who claim to be “speaking for the Left.”  It’s easy to complain about what didn’t get done.  It’s easy to put your issue as number one on the priority list.  Unfortunately, the world has had a nasty habit of reshuffling those priorities.     No one who was running for President in 2007 planned on the economy tanking.  None of them thought about an “Arab Spring,” that there would be a euro crisis,  that Republicans would turn into total obstructionists, or that they’d win control of the House in 2010.   But they did happen, and despite that, Democrats and this President have accomplished a lot.  Have the “lefter than thou” group pointed to those accomplishments?  No, they’re still obsessing about what they didn’t get.  You know what?  I’d have liked a lot of things done as well.  I’m sure that the President and various members of Congress would have.  But the practical reality is that you don’t get to do everything you’d like to do.  You get done what you can.  That is a lesson I’ve learned – and just had a refresher course in – myself. It’s a lesson that the gripers won’t learn.



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13 responses to “Want To Do versus Can Do – Relearning the Lesson

  1. Thanks for another useful post.
    Yesterday I decided for 2012 to go back to Day Timers (daily calendar and to do lists on steroids.) I’d given them up a few years back but the truth is I got a lot more done when I had a ‘To Do’ list that I created, monitored and evaluated.

    On Nov 7, 2012 who really wants to hear, “Hail President Gingrich!” It’s time to share the load of campaigning. To avoid a GOP demagogue ridden future, it’s time to put involvement on the “January 2012 Must Do” list.

    The Day Timer should arrive in 7 – 10 business days. http://bit.ly/tHZs58 Donkey or soldier?

    • I used to use those a lot, but in my current field, they’re not quite as useful. Lots of “flex” in what I’m going to be doing on any given day. What I do remember was that when I became an IT systems administrator, a lot of my “to do” priorities ended up getting reshuffled in the wake of “disaster of the day.” 😆 I didn’t normally schedule a server crash. 😛

      • I gave them up for the same reason you did; I wondered what life would be like if I had more flex. But with campaign activities I can be more specific than I already am and do a better job of monitoring discrepancies, obstacles and ‘If-then’ oportunities.
        It’s only for a year, right? 🙂 than I can go back to being a slob. LOL
        (aside … how far north are you, the Potsdam, Plattsburgh area?)

        • South of there. I’m more-or-less dead center of the Park.

          Mostly, I don’t need a Day Timer anymore. I either have a “to do list” on my computer, or I’m spending time out in the field so it’s not worth it to carry it around.

  2. Life happens. Sh** happens. I too am a pragmatist and I like the parallels you draw with the stuff that happened to the President. He managed to get a lot done in spite of all that.

    • That list is handy. I keep a copy of the President’s accomplishments that Organizing for America has (they keep having to update it.) It’s called ‘Promises Kept.’ When I talk with folks around town, it comes in handy since most people either have forgotten or have never known what many of those milestones are. Maybe there should be a link to it here.

    • I’ve known that for years, but apparently the PL and frustrati all live in worlds where “to-do lists” are easy to accomplish and life is extremely predictable. 🙄 I’ve spent too many years in jobs where Murphy’s Law holds sway. 😀

      • I think Muphy’s Law was written for me. I was a counselor and social worker before I retired. I worked mostly with children and teens. I always had clear cut goals and treatment plans that were constantly being revised because human beings, especially the young, are very unpredictable.

        I could come to work with my “To Do” list in hand and find that all hell was breaking loose. So, shelve list, deal with the carnage of the day, revise plans and start over. I know all about pragmatism. Do what you can, one step at a time and duck when the pooh flies!

        • When I was a sysadmin, I had a daily, weekly, and monthly list of things that had to be done, and priorities assigned. At least twice a week, all of those got reshuffled. One day I was working on my #1 priority when the screen showing a critical system went blank. The people in my department who were using it for work laughed about it later on – they said “everything stopped, and we were about to go get you when your door opened and you went racing out the door!” As it was, the server had crashed badly, and fortunately the backup had kicked in, but my #1 priority became “fix the server.”

  3. ‘To Do’ lists are not too popular I see. Campaigns on the other hand live by them (or die.) For Dems it’s ‘must do’ because the GOP have so much $$. Dems have to make the most of what and who they have.

    I’m a handful shy of 100 voter registrations this round and of course I kept track, assessed continually where I was and revised so I could make my goal by the end of this month. Will I make my goal. If I had no plan, no list, no fallback plan, no ‘if then’ scenarios, I wouldn’t have gotten this far. I’m also just shy of 100 for another activity I’ve been doing since March. This one is more labor intensive but I’ll probably make that one again becaues of the lists. AS useful as they are, I’m not satisfied. I want to do alittle better.

    Again without the list, I doubt I’d have gottent his far. It’s the same with phone banking. Disasters certainly happen in politics but in the world of local campaigning lists are simply commonplace and necessary to make themost of what we have.

    • It’s not that I don’t have a “To Do” list, it’s just that I no longer lock myself into a day-by-day one, or I’ve found in various careers that having a daily one can often mean one more task you have to do as you reshuffle it. 😀 For example, if next year is “normal” (I hope), I can give you right now a virtual day-by-day task list of things I’m going to be doing until the end of May. If, on the other hand, winter hangs on until the end of April – as it has done a few times in the past – I’ll have to shuffle things around to take into account that some places I’m going to need to get to are inaccessible. For example, this year, we were forbidden to go into certain places that we needed to go. Most years, middle-to-end of April, we’re in there, this year, it didn’t get accessible until early June. So my repeat lesson on what I wanted to do wasn’t necessarily what i could do. 😉

  4. trs

    I’d give you a standing ovation for this one if I could, Norbrook (I have a cat on my lap at the moment – you understand, I hope)! That’s a point I’ve been trying to make with people for months. You have a list. Life gets in the way, and you deal with that while getting what you can. I compare it to building a house: sure, you’d like that $2000 front door, and it looks perfect for what you have in mind, but you can only afford the $500 door. You adjust your sights and realize that progress is usually done in incremental steps.

  5. Big Smile on your post. The last door I bought was $20 at the local Re-Store. What a deal.

    My little handmade ‘2do’ list for Thursday netted me two new registered voters while attending the Pueblo Tribal endorsement of Barack Obama at Sandia pueblo — the 1st major endorsement of Obama in New Mexico. I liked the endorsement but I loved registering two new voters.