Long Reads

Fetch Quests

My friends who play RPGs will be familiar with the concept of “fetch quests.” For the rest of you, they’re sort of in the same family as a MacGuffin, that largely interchangeable noun valued by a story’s characters in order to drive the plot. In games, the character must go out and collect an arbitrary number of items to proceed. After all, how could they be trusted if they did not first bring the local barkeep thirty-seven muskrat pelts?

Attempting to accomplish anything during my time not at work has been a maddening series of fetch quests, drawing what should be simple tasks out over weeks or even months. Every task inherently includes other tasks within itself, compounded by mistakes along the way that create additional tasks. An example:

I received some new boots in the mail back in July, a birthday present from my dear mother. Alas, they were too big, or perhaps my feet were too small. Regardless, the company offered free return shipping. This meant going to their website, filling out the return request, and getting a mailing label. Followed by printing the label, packing up the boots, and taking the package to the post office during Business Hours.

After eventually completing these steps successfully, I waited for the return to process, the new boots to ship and arrive…and again I was too small they were too large. This time I waited too long to fill out the form, a mistake that spawned the additional requirement of calling the company to ask nicely if I could still do an exchange. They graciously approved, initiating a repeat of the previous sequence: print label at work, package item, take to post office during Business Hours.

By the time I left the post office for the second time, I had “completed” a slew of tasks with no sense of accomplishment: everything to that point had been a rabbit hole of additional tasks. Each one with that sense of inertia to overcome, each one with its own restrictions and barriers to progress, and none of them directly achieving the desired final result.

In an attempt to accelerate this ponderous timeline, I have started to break to-do items into ridiculously small pieces that actually (rather than theoretically) fit into the spaces between my work hours.

  • Take package to post office


  • Find box of correct size
  • Pack object into box
  • Print address label
  • Drive to post office

It doesn’t help with the lack of accomplishment, but I am hoping that it will enable me to make enough interval progress to stop missing return deadlines, or to “stack” a lot of things that need to be mailed while I’m waiting for an elusive window of postal opportunity.

As for the boots, after six months of questing, a size 10 pair arrived. They fit perfectly.

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