Friday, March 9, 2018

How to Get Shit Done

Nagging Tasks.  They are tasks that you "should" do, but aren't urgent so you keep putting them off because it just seems like soooo much effort to just do it.  I would wager that most of the things on our long "To Do" list are nagging tasks.

Things like fixing the caulk around your sink, changing that burnt out light bulb (or light bulbs) or the air filter, finally putting your kids' school pictures in the frame, and dare I say actually hang them on the wall?  It's things like sewing that button back on your favorite shirt (oh, heck with it, it's been five years), cleaning up the pictures on your phone and creating a nice family photo album, or making those recipes you've been saving on Pinterest.  Nagging tasks also could be all those projects that you started and have yet to actually finish.

I have a whole lot of these nagging tasks.  That is the short list I just named, and I can add about 20-100 more things to it.  Nagging tasks are like these annoying gnats swirling around my brain.  I walk by the burnt out light bulb.  The gnat buzzes to the front, and I swat it back as I continue to walk past.  More and more pile up, multiplying.  I swat them away barely acknowledging them because they are small things, and I have more pressing tasks, yet they continuously annoy me on this low grade frequency.  Not like a screaming baby that needs attention now, but rather this constant background noise that builds and builds.

It might seem like theses nagging tasks don't drain you of energy, but every time I walk by that unchanged lightbulb, sigh and think, "I really ought to change that", I am convinced it sucks a little of my life away. Not to mention the guilt that often accompanies all those things I am not doing, but "should" be doing.

Recently, a friend of mine mentioned that she had a frustrating day, so she was taking her frustrations out by cleaning the leaves out of her pool (qualifies as a nagging task in my book).  I thought, "Wow, what an idea? I take my frustrations out on a Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel Ghirardelli Square (or two or three or more - don't judge me!) or some Thin Mints, or even by snapping at a loved one, but not on a nagging task.

Yet, I have to say on those rare occasions when I actually push procrastination aside and "just do it", I get a boost of energy from the accomplishment that usually outweighs the effort it took to get off my butt and do it.  And, it usually doesn't take as much time as I made it out to be in my head.

So, I got a little brave today, and did a brain dump of all the nagging tasks that I have swirling around in the back of my mind, and I wrote them all down (Step 1). 

I walked from room to room taking note of all the little things that needed to be done.  The loose screws in the door knobs that needed to be tightened.  The kids craft shelves that needed to be sorted.  The pictures that we bought on our honeymoon that we still haven't framed. Let's just say, it's a lot of that kind of stuff.  I also captured all the commitments or social things I felt I needed to do, learn, be.  Anything sort of hanging over my head, was written down on the list.

I thought I would be overwhelmed when I wrote it all down, like I can't believe there is so much stuff! Where are those Ghirardelli Chocolates? However, what came with it was more peace of mind.  Like there it really was, in all of it's three page glory.  Know where it wasn't anymore? Swirling around in my mind, taking up valuable real estate and energy.

Next, I divided my list into "Bucket" or "F*ck it" (Step 2)

The "F*ck It" list.   It is a little scary, but it is the most crucial step of all. It's the stuff that I am finally ready to admit that I'm just not going to do.

Here's the hard, cold truth.  You can't do it all.  You might be able to fake it for a while, but it will be at the expense of your sanity, and it's not worth it people.  So, you have to choose what's most important to you, a life or perfection. 

Look, I wish I was the Mom who made homemade, nut-less, dairy free granola bars for my child's soccer team, while looking fabulously pulled together with my perfect hair, right before I rush off to drive little Johnny to his piano lessons in between volunteering to knit socks for the homeless,  make 800 die cuts for my daughter's 3rd grade class, take my soufflĂ© out of the oven and have a martini waiting for my man when he walks through the door, but it ain't going to happen.  I'll settle for washing my hair this week, driving my kids to the one after school activity they really want to do, and pouring myself a glass of wine when I get home while I throw together a salad from a bag and throw some chicken nuggets on top.  Some days that's a win. Not stressing yourself is a win for everyone.

Bucket list items are the those things you actually want or need to get done.  Take a look at these tasks and decide which of these things you would be better served delegating.  For example, cleaning carpets - outsource/delegate.  Cleaning out the garbage can - delegate to my kids.  Hey, I know that's a gross job, but so is washing their underwear, and I still do it!

I encourage you to revisit your list often and ask yourself, "Is this really the best use of my limited time and energy?" Does it get me closer to my goals? If the answer is "no", add it to the F*ck It list, and as you cross it off, say OUTLOUD, "F*CK It".  You will feel like a badass.

Now I'm left with the stuff I am actually going to do.  I make a quick little time estimate of the things on my list.  I also do a quick gut check and ask myself why am I not doing some of these things already (in other words, why am I procrastinating?).  

Is it that I think it will take too much time, like in the case of the family photo album? Can I dedicate 15 minutes a day a couple of days of week to it? Yes, I can manage to do that.

Some of my other reasons for procrastination are just silly.  Like in the case of the light bulb.  I don't mind getting the ladder out and changing the light bulb, but I HATE putting the ladder back.  Does this make logical sense? No, but it is what it is, so I put the ladder against the wall, and kindly ask my husband to put it away while I get dinner ready. I notice that if I say I have something else to do instead, he is much more likely to help.  Actual science backs this up.  Try it yourself, and you will see.  Like, I'm folding laundry, can you give the dogs their medicine? See, some tasks you can do portion of and delegate share the rest with a loved one.

Another strategy to stop procrastinating is to find someone you can be accountable to by enlisting the help of a friend. 

For example, I am going to have to finally paint our hallway.  It is the only wall not painted since we re-painted everything else.  I call it the hallway of shame.  We did a major remodel last year, and you can plainly see where we ran out of energy.  Since it is an upstairs hallway that only we see, I keep putting it off.  It would probably only take me a weekend to do it.  So, one nagging task is to get the paint one week, and then block off some time to paint it.  I will plan to actually do it when my Mom comes to visit.  One, because she will help me.  Two, she doesn't really let me procrastinate. So, once I pull the trigger and mention that I want to do this, she will be all "Let's do it" and it'll get done.

So, if you have an errand to run, make a date with a friend to hit the stores together, or, grab your computer and spend the afternoon together putting those photos into an online scrapbook or go old school and actually scrapbook.  Whatever works for you.  Plus as a bonus, social contact raises your level of happiness so you will feel good on two levels.

After I cross off, delegate, and get a handle on the things standing in my way, I am ready to take that list of remaining tasks and commit to knocking one out a week (or a month or whatever works for you).

If there is a busy week or you just don't feel like doing something big, knock out a 5 minute one, like tightening the screws on the doorknob, (but leave the screwdriver for someone else to put away.)  If you don't have a 5 to 10 minute task, then do your 15 minutes toward the bigger picture. Some of the other tasks might call for more time and planning, maybe a trip to the store or something.  So, maybe I spend 5 minutes deciding how I can break this bigger tasks up into 15 minutes parts.

Even if you do nothing else but write all your nagging tasks down, I promise you, you will feel at least 5 pounds lighter (and who doesn't want that?) At the very least, you will be too busy writing to stuff another caramel square or Thin Mint into your face.

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