I'm so glad you asked.
Here he is as described in Norton Juster's "The Phantom Tollbooth":
"What could be more important than doing unimportant things? If you stop to do enough of them, you'll never get to where you're going." He punctuated his last remark with a villainous laugh.
"The you must"
"Quite correct!" he shrieked triumphantly. "I am the Terrible Trivium, demon of petty tasks and worthless jobs, ogre of wasted effort and monster of habit."
The Humbug dropped his needle and stared in disbelief while Milo and Tock began to back away slowly.
"Don't try to leave," he ordered with a menacing sweep of his arm, "for there's so very much to do, and you still have over eight hundred years to go on the first job."
"But why only do unimportant things?" asked Milo, who suddenly remembered how much time he spent each day doing them.
"Think of the trouble it saves," the man explained..."If you only do the easy and useless jobs, you'll never have to worry about the important ones which are so difficult. You just won't have the time. For there's always something to do to keep you from what you really should be doing..."
As he spoke, he tiptoed slowly toward them with his arms outstretched and continued to whisper in a soft, deceitful voice, "Now do come and stay with me. We'll have so much fun together. There are things to fill and things to empty, things to take away and things to bring back, things to pick up and things to put down, and besides all that we have pencils to sharpen, holes to dig, nails to straighten, stamps to lick and ever so much more. Why, if you stay here, you'll never have to think again-and with a little practice you can become a monster of habit too."
I have been grappling with the Terrible Trivium all week. Or, with the creepy feeling that just such a demon is sitting on my shoulder, holding his aching sides, laughing at the futility of my endeavors. It seems like I am running in place, never making the slightest headway and absolutely wearing myself out. For every crayon I pick up there are 15 legos dropped. For every meal I cook and clean up after, there are at least two more to begin. I scarcely sit down all day long. And yet the garden is left untended, the meals unplanned, the laundry unfolded and the kids undisciplined
The incomparable G.K. Chesterton put it this way: " Anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn't the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment."
I'm an expert in this unproductive productivity.
I wish I had a pat answer of how to escape it. But, maybe there is another way of looking at it. Maybe things aren't as trivial as I might assume. Maybe everything is getting done, in an order other than how my mother would have done it, but done just the same. Maybe my children prefer spur of the moment popcorn to meticulously planned and decorated cupcakes.
God does not despise the "day of small things". Why should I? This week I want to take the time to open my eyes and evaluate my every day habits. Are these habits that build my home? Or is it just what I do without any good reason as to why? Is there anything important being left undone? Is there something I'm hiding from? An issue that I would do anything to keep myself so busy that I'll never have "time" to do it? There's about 50 things that just came to mind. (Not the least of which is a diaper that needs to be changed. Now!)
But I'm forgetting the most important tool, still: Gratitude. Gratitude is what makes the difference between a life of drudgery and a life of purpose.
"And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful." Colossians 3:15
I need to take every moment, every task as from the hand of God and let the peace of God rule my heart. Knowing that nothing is too small or unimportant to Him. And be thankful. (I hope to have a lot more to say about this verse later this week.)
So, take heart! The first step to evading the Terrible Trivium is to know that he exists. And, he is a coward. We all have that one task that we would do anything (including scrubbing the grout with a toothbrush) to avoid. But, God will give us the courage to face our fears head on and conquer our challenges with peace and gratitude.