Thursday, February 3, 2011

Sneaking up on productivity


Martha Stuart I am not. I do not sing cheerily as I scrub the inside of the microwave with a toothbrush. I have to be bribed to vacuum. I believe that cleaning up for company means shoving everything into the nearest closet and praying it doesn't burst open during their visit, showering everyone with confetti-like bits of domestic failure.
In housework, as with most things in life, getting started is the hardest part. One evening as I was actively avoiding all the cleaning I was supposed to be doing, my sister called. Per usual, I got off the couch and started pacing (I’m a fidgety talker). 
On my third lap through the bedroom, I noticed a small pile of clean clothes that needed to be put away. I absentmindedly put them away and continued yammering away with my sister about sisterly things.
"Wow, I can't believe he did that. Yeah, he'll probably get fired soon."
 Hmm, I have been meaning to hang up those clean clothes that are piled up on my dresser. I'll just take care of those real quick.
"Yeah, the cats are fine. One of them jumped on my head in the middle of the night but they do that all the time."
It's been bugging me that all my jewelry is stuffed into this bag. Maybe I'll just take this cute plate and arrange everything on the bureau. Wow, it looks like a real adult lives here!
"Yes, I'm sure your outfit is adorable.”
There are cat toys everywhere; I'll just pick those up. And it doesn't make sense for all these blankets and pillows to be out, I can make some room in the closet and put them away.
After 45 minutes on the phone, our apartment was looking pretty awesome. All the clutter had been picked up, and I had even done a few really minor organizational projects. And I wasn't even done! I was on a roll for almost another hour before I finally ran out of steam. All those little miscellaneous items that we'd been stepping over or pretending not to see for almost two months - an unpacked box on the floor in the bathroom, a pile of towels and a small rug stuffed into the corner of the bedroom, a stack of papers in the office - and I took care of all of it!
To say that this was a successful evening for me was a bit of an understatement. I was positively BEAMING when Husband came home.
"Did you see my bureau? What about the bathroom, did you look in the cabinet? Notice anything different, hmmmmm? Oh and look in the living room, did you see that? Anything missing? Well look in the kitchen and BE PREPARED TO BE AMAZED."
The moral of the story is, I'm incapable of doing housework unless I'm on the phone with my sister. Wait. No. Wrong takeaway, sorry.
Just start. Baby steps, and don’t think about it too much. I had no agenda, no massively overwhelming to-do list (I love to-do lists, but sometimes they’re more paralyzing than inspiring). Very often I have to trick myself into being productive, and this is a perfect example. Spoon-feeding myself little bits of tasks is absolutely the way to go so I don't freak out at the perceived magnitude of a project. My brain is an easily-spooked animal that must be approached slowly and carefully.
It seems like all the productivity gurus advocate breaking any large project down into manageable, measurable steps. That’s great advice, but it doesn’t do you any good unless you get off the couch and start something. Sometimes that requires a bit of mental trickery.
What tips and tricks do you have for chronic procrastinators like myself? Let me know in the comments!

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