Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tackle A Big Job In A Better Way

“I just love cleaning my house!” Have you ever heard this from anyone? I certainly haven’t, and have never met anyone who does.

Growing up, our house was practically spotless. My mother was driven. She had a weekly routine that she allowed nothing to interfere with. When I came home from college in the summer with my dirty and disheveled belongings, she went pale and couldn’t speak.

The unsolicited advice on organization and household-related do’s and don’ts I have received over the years could be compared to the flow of Niagara Falls. It annoyed me most of the time. So you can imagine the absolute delight I’ve experienced now that I’ve become the advice-giver for some of her problems. 

A few years ago when she began to live alone, she bought a small house with a big, unruly backyard.  She single-handedly turned it into a big, beautiful garden, not really grasping the continuous work that it would entail. Stubbornly sticking to her motto, everything must be beautiful at all times, she is completely exhausted from March through September, and disillusioned with the beautiful world she has created for herself.

She had fallen into that awful trap, when a chore (it can be any kind) appears so insurmountable that doing it makes you feel frustrated and depressed.  Or, when you avoid it altogether, it becomes that bogeyman in the closet that never quite lets you breathe easily again.

This is one of those clear cases of unrealistic goals that I write about in my book. When you decide to tackle a big goal and give it a hard deadline, you have given your brain a target. Unless you achieve it exactly as planned, your brain will tell you that you have failed, and all those negative feelings will haunt you.

The solution to the problem is to break up that big, unrealistic goal into smaller, realistic ones that you can readily accomplish.  And when you do, your brain will reward you with those wonderful feelings of a job well done.

So, if it’s keeping up with your garden or house that’s giving you problems, clean just one room well (or make sections in the garden). On a different day, tackle another room. Working in circles like that, you will get to everything eventually that needs your care. Your surroundings will feel friendlier and more relaxing, because you have stopped being a slave to it.

Another good example of how you can use this strategy came to me recently from my widowed great aunt. She is ninety and has decided to move into an assisted living arrangement. For many years, she has been dreading dealing with her husband’s private office.  She has rarely entered the room because it utterly overwhelms her. It is full of odd collector’s items from trips long ago, old papers and unfinished manuscripts, and boxes and boxes of unknown content.

She felt it her duty to clear this out herself - it was too personal for a stranger’s eyes and hurried hands. I told her to tackle just one drawer or box a day, and make sure to take weekends off!  She told me a few days ago that she was almost done and that it had been far easier than she thought it ever would be.

Good luck with your goals!

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