How To Be The Ultimate Taskmaster Modern life has left some of us suffering from a fear of idleness. For these souls, even a few seconds without some activity is a source of dread and anxiety. What ever will I do while wait for that Web site to load? Jennifer Sharpe has found a way to fill those tiny time vacuums.
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How To Be The Ultimate Taskmaster

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How To Be The Ultimate Taskmaster

How To Be The Ultimate Taskmaster

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Back now with Day to Day. Here's a curious aspect of our modern life. No matter how busy we are, no matter how much we multi-task, there are always those little moments when we just have to wait.

BRAND: Waiting to leave a voicemail.

Unidentified Woman: To initiate callback, push star. To leave a message, begin speaking at the tone. When finished, push star.

BRAND: Waiting for the microwave.

BRAND: Waiting for help from customer service.

Unidentified Woman: The option you selected is not available.

BRAND: For some people, these little moments of idleness are maddening. Day to Day contributor, Jennifer Sharpe, ran into one of these downtime-a-phobes(ph) on a recent visit to her hometown, Berkeley, California.

JENNIFER SHARPE: When I got to Berkeley last month, I couldn't believe how much time and energy management it took just to make plans with my old friends. I had to call their home phones, cellphones, work phones and send emails to their Facebook, MySpace and regular email accounts. Out of all that, a few plans materialized, like my dinner with Aminta(ph) who showed up late.

Ms. AMINTA (Friend): Oh, that wasn't even late, Jennifer. I was an hour - I was there an hour after I said I was going to be. SHARPE: I would say an hour and a half.

Ms. AMINTA: Oh, that's nothing.

SHARPE: Aminta is a friend from high school I hadn't seen in years. Last time we made plans, she never even showed up.

Ms. AMINTA: It's never that I flaked because it wasn't like I ever forgot where it was I was supposed to be meeting you. It's that I was doing the other things that I was doing and I was getting through them as I could.

SHARPE: Sinking back into my couch, she explained that she never knows whether something's going to take two minutes

Ms. AMINTA: Because it took me much longer to, you know, to spot clean my shoes or...

SHARPE: Or two hours - especially if it involves looking something up on the web, like a bus schedule.

Ms. AMINTA: I know, go to the website where I was supposed to get information then it will turn out an array of a million different choices of schedules that I'm supposed to pinpoint the corner that's near so...

SHARPE: I got exhausted just picturing her search and the escalating anxiety she feels watching her computer spinning ball.

Ms. AMINTA: What click? I'm clicking! I'm clicking! I am like OK, forgot it.

SHARPE: Aminta lives with her girlfriend who's usually on the other side of the bed working at her computer.

Ms. AMINTA: I don't bang the keyboard but I'll do things like: I yell and I yell and I grip my hands and then I say, Oh, my God!

SHARPE: But as Aminta's outbursts have continued.

Ms. AMINTA: She's starting to speak up a little more and say, OK, some of its uncomfortable for me and not that fun to listen to and it seems like maybe it's starting to happen more often and you're willing to like dive into the rage a little bit too much.

SHARPE: In response, Aminta's created a new system based on the way she spends her time waiting in line at the bank.

Ms. AMINTA: I bring a book or I bring a Sudoku puzzle or whatever it is you know - a million things I can do.

SHARPE: Things she now brings to the spot on the bed where she works at her computer.

Ms. AMINTA: In like concentric circles almost emanating out from there is all of the things that I've done, have been doing or maybe will do in between and while I'm doing all the things on the computer.

SHARPE: An array of 30-second to 7-minute tasks, ranging from grooming activities.

Ms. AMINTA: I really don't like (unintelligible) pills.

SHARPE: To organizing

Ms. AMINTA: Checking batteries. I keep a bag of batteries next to the bed. So it's great. I can test like four batteries and - oh, search is done. I go back to the computer.

SHARPE: Recently, while simultaneously watching television with the sound off, spending time online and listening to an Alice Walker book on tape, she realized that her computer was interfering with the sense of peace the book on tape was giving her. So she shut it off and didn't turn it back on again for days.

Ms. AMINTA: I just took my hand in the back of the thing and clicked it shut and just unplugged it and just put it to the side of that.

SHARPE: Impressed by her turn around.

Ms. AMINTA: I pictured myself adopting her system. I would start with a sorting thing. If you have a box of earrings, the next time you start to search, you go through and pair them all up.

SHARPE: But I knew I'd probably never do it because unlike Aminta, I don't really mind watching the ball spinning on my computer. Maybe it's that after staring at it for so many years now, I've become patient or maybe it's just laziness.

Ms. AMINTA: Another two batteries. Finish off the bag the next time you know.

SHARPE: For NPR News, I'm Jennifer Sharpe.

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