Life's basic to-do list isn't all that long. On it, typically, are:- Earn a living

- Attend to personal and household needs

- Look after relatives

- Spend time with friends

- Spend time alone

- Enjoy the arts

- Keep up with what's going on in the world

- Improve the world

That's only eight tasks, and the same ones that people have been more or less managing since civilization began. So why is everyone suddenly complaining about not having enough time?

What has changed besides the shorter workweek, the horseless airplane, the air-conditioned summer, the no-iron fabric and ever more ways of receiving news and entertainment without having to get dressed?

All Miss Manners ever hears is how busy people are.

Some of them are just bragging, now that having to work all the time has achieved the status once enjoyed by never having to work. Others are practically weeping from exhaustion.

Miss Manners hates to add to their burden by asking them to take the time to reschedule their lives, but the present approach clearly isn't working. All those categories remain essential, but some of them have been seriously neglected because others have developed too many subcategories.

Earning a living now includes so much faked friendship, what with oxymoronic workplace partying and business entertaining, that it all but obliterates spending time with friends. Any social time left has, with the assistance of computer games and chat rooms, disappeared into time spent with invisible friends or, as we used to say, alone.

Attending to personal needs has come to require so much devotion to food and exercise that there is hardly time for looking after relatives. What leftover time there is for that has been shifted over into agonizing about whether one is doing the right thing by one's young children, aged parents or mate; this leads to therapy that brings it full cycle back to looking after oneself.

Miss Manners would never suggest that anyone eliminate any of the basic tasks. But something has to change when everybody has time for files of old jokes circulated by e-mail and nobody has time for dinner at home.

She suggests getting rid of those frills that are either no fun or don't work:

- Feeling guilty. Miss Manners never has to feel guilty because she never does anything wrong, but those who are human should substitute doing the best they can and correcting what is wrong. Fretting doesn't help anyone.

- Hanging out with people you don't like but think might be of use to you. They probably won't (unless it was in their own interests anyway, in which case it isn't necessary), and even if they will, you'll get to feeling bitterly that no one loves you for yourself and, having neglected disinterested family and friends, you'll be right.

- Saying yes when you mean no, because it takes longer to get out of something than it does not to get into it.

- Saying yes for family members without checking, because it takes even more elaborate excuses to explain.

- Keeping up with the latest in any field other than your work or a beloved hobby, especially when it's something in which change is the main point, such as fashionable restaurants or teenage slang. Miss Manners is a hopeless newspaper addict, but even she realizes that there are only so many significant changes in the world.

- Remembering to stay mad.

- Improving the world by means of lavish social events for good causes, instead of giving your services or money to those who need it.

- Goofing off when you should be working and working when you should be goofing off, so that both activities are ruined by the feeling that you are supposed to be doing something else.

Dear Miss Manners: Are the pleats in a cummerbund worn up or down? I've heard down, so as not to catch crumbs; and up, so as to catch crumbs.

Gentle Reader: The pleats are worn up. Miss Manners has also heard that it was to catch crumbs, as well that it was to catch ashes and, more decorously, that it was to tuck away opera tickets.

However, gentlemen who can't get their food into their mouths should excuse themselves, rather than storing it on their persons; no gentleman should smoke unless there are ashtrays out, so there is no need to set himself on fire; and absent-minded gentlemen should put their wives in charge of the opera tickets. Miss Manners suggests you don a waistcoat instead and go partying with a better crowd.