Sometimes ideas, chores, and plans energize and invigorate me. Other times, they’re paralyzing. All the stuff that needs doing wars with all things I want to do, and I never know what to begin with. Stymied by indecision, I can waste hours worrying and overthinking instead of being productive.
Our house and property have a lot of potential (Beware of that danger-laden euphemism for “work intensive, never ending project” when you buy!), but prioritizing the seemingly insurmountable work sometimes feels impossible.
In my work life, there’s always so much to do that my brain hums a constant refrain of where to start, where to start.
And then there are all the annoying household tasks. Toilets need cleaned. Meals need prepared. (Hopefully not at the same time.) Laundry breeds the minute you turn your back. (Tell you something you don’t know, right?)
Contemplating my latest struggle to get down to work, however, I realized something encouraging. As much as I bellyache and feel in over my head at times, I also tackle a lot and get a lot done, so long as I remember the secret: Tackle one piece at a time.
When I was a kid, I was incredibly messy (much to the despair of my poor, clean freak mom who had a houseful of chaos-lovers.)
Even though we all did chores regularly, my room always looked like I’d never sorted, organized or picked it up in my life.
When ordered to clean it, overwhelmed by the looming work, I’d do what seemed most sensible to me: waste a ton of time, crying, whining, and/or playing with things I was supposed to be putting away. (You’d think that at some point in my childhood I would’ve figured out procrastination didn’t help, but no. . . .)
My mom would wait, hoping if left to my own devices I’d finally incorporate the strategy she tried so hard to drill into me, but as minutes turned to hours and she saw my whole day being frittered away, she’d intervene—note I did not say “do it for me.” She never did it for me. (And wow . . . it really would’ve been so much easier for her if she had. Kudos to her for her long-suffering patience!)
“Just pick up one thing at a time.”
“I can’t. There’s too much.” (Whine. Wail!)
“Pick something. It doesn’t matter what. Start with the biggest things—like your bedding. Put it back on your bed. It’s not rocket science.”
She’d watch from the doorway to make sure I didn’t get sidetracked. “If you make your bed during this step—don’t just jumble everything in a heap—it will save work later.” (Again, this always seemed like brand new wisdom every time I heard it.)
“Now pick up all your stupid stuffed animals.” (They weren’t really stupid but I understand her frustration.) “No, don’t just throw them willy-nilly. Line them up.”
And once Raggedy Anne and Co. were all arranged: “That’s a good start. Now the Barbie stuff. I’ll be back shortly.”
Barbies. Check. Blocks (without being prodded—go me!) Check.
Mom in the doorway again. “Good. Now the Fisher Price—and you know, every time you play with one thing you don’t have to dump out every other single thing you own all at one time.” (Ha! Good one, Mom. You’re such a kidder.)
Next, groan, all the Lego. Then—voilà!—vacuum time. Once I was finished I was always happily surprised. It really hadn’t been that difficult.
Final check and advice: “Good job. Now don’t you think it’d be easier to tidy as you go instead of waiting ‘til your whole room is a pigsty?” (Well, duh, Mom . . . but having a pet unicorn would also be nice.)
After ten years or so, I didn’t need constant nudging to apply my mom’s step-by-step breakdown and conquer approach. And today, yes, I still get overwhelmed and whine occasionally, but eventually I remember to just pick something and start—and there isn’t a pet unicorn in sight.
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“Start Already” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, March 25, 2015 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.”
7 thoughts on “Start Already”
Lol, my mom did the same thing. I tried it on our four and the boys got it but the girls? Not so much😱. Now I have the grands to marshall— I think motherhood never really ends.
I really feel your pain, Ev. Lately I’ve been so overwhelmed that I’ve become one of “those” people–the ones who don’t have time to answer an email, or the ones who take forever to send a good friend some interview questions.
I hate that feeling, and one thing at a time is always a good approach. However, what happens when there’s just too many things?
Yeah, this applies! Starting on novel revisions today. I began with the paperclips.
>>>Now I have the grands to marshall— I think motherhood never really ends.<<<
LOL, I think you're SO right, Suzie. Good luck in the training. 😉 (And don't lose hope for your daughters, ha ha. It took me until my mid 30s to be able to do dishes without absolutely LOATHING every minute of that chore, but I can now. ;))
Ah, Holli. You nailed my next conundrum with your question, ” However, what happens when there’s just too many things?”–and my oh-so-helpful answer is . . . I have no idea, but I have hopes that as I prioritize and take care of the most critical things first, some of the small stuff will take care of itself and/or I’ll find miraculous pockets of unforeseen time. Wish me luck, lol.
And as for, “the ones who don’t have time to answer an email, or the ones who take forever to send a good friend some interview questions” . . . Don’t berate yourself too harshly. I think people totally understand–especially the interviewee-friend. 😉 Life is busy–and folks can, I think, sense people who genuinely care.
Yay, Susan! That’s an exciting phase. Best of luck and fun tackling those paperclips. 🙂
LOL! I love that your mom did that, and I love your response as a little kid! So classic! It’s so funny to listen to my older girls tell my youngest those exact same things now.
I find on the days where there is too much to do and I know I don’t have time for everything, that if I put aside the writing and do everything else, I feel dissatisfied by the end of the day. However, if I do the writing and leave other things undone, I’m pretty happy, and in fact, usually feel completely satified. 🙂 Sometimes those things that seem so important, or more important than the writing anyway, are really just plainly NOT!