August 13, 2008

Well, What CAN You Do?

Sometimes I get in these moods where I have so much to do, I can't do anything. I know I've mentioned this before, but because I'm in that kind of mood right this minute, I can't go back and find where. The idea of searching through the archives seems overwhelming.

Here's what I do when I'm in one of those moods: I play "Well, What CAN You Do?" This afternoon, for example: There is stuff strewn all over all the floors, and the dishes are piled to the top of the sink, and laundry needs to be done, and I would like to have muffins tomorrow but would need to bake some, and I need to choose flooring for the dining room, and the sheets haven't been changed in awhile on any of the six beds, and I need to go through photos so I can send a batch to my in-laws, and there is a lot of other stuff to be done but I am suffocating under the weight of it and all I want to do is flee to somewhere where none of this is my job. I think, "I can't do it. I can't do any of it. I can't do those dishes, and I can't handle the laundry---maybe not ever again."

What I do is I think to myself, "Well, what CAN you do?" And I answer myself lethargically: "Well. I could put IN a load of laundry. But I'm NOT seeing it all the way through, and I'm not folding the load that's all cold in the dryer." And I say back, "That's fine, fine. Do you think you could bring the dryer load upstairs?" And I say, "Yeah. But I'm not folding it!" And I say, "Sure, no, that's fine. Just leave it in the hall." And that's what I do. Or perhaps I first offer the opinion that I shouldn't even put a load in, since I'll just have to manage it later and if I don't it'll be all mildewy and that'll be even more discouraging---but if I DO say something like that, I immediately soothe myself: "No, no---don't think about later. Just do what you can do NOW. I know, putting laundry IN is the easy/fun part, but that's okay: just do the easy/fun part."

And then when the washing machine is swishing, I say to myself, "What ELSE can you do? Anything?" And I shrug and say, "Well, I guess I could put away the oven mitt that's on the counter." And I praise myself: "Oh, good! Yes, that's very good!" And so then I feel a little encouraged, and I say, "And I guess I could also pick up this crumpled napkin, and on the way to the trash I could use it to pick up that dead ant on the floor." And myself lavishes me with even more praise.

Already things look better. And I don't PUSH it, either: if doing the things I CAN do doesn't lead to a big on-a-roll session, I go ahead and flop down at my computer or in my recliner as I wanted to do to begin with. But the washing machine is going, and the oven mitt is one less thing cluttering the kitchen counters, and the dead ant is in the trash, and so things are a little better than they were before, and I feel a little better too.


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44 comments:

Anna said...

I love this idea! I am often in this very same situation; every toy in the known universe is strewn homogenously over the entire floor, all the dishes are piled in the sink and the pans I need for dinner are in the bottom; and I am curled up in a fetal position on the couch that may or may not have a big wet milk spot. I usually get a nice snack and/or drink and sit for a minute, and make a list of what I need to do just to make a little headway. Then I do the things on the list, no thinking required, and things are a teeny bit better. Then, more snacks!

d e v a n said...

I think you must be in my head today. I've felt like that so much lately, and it is discouraging.
I'll just have to hold my hand and guide me to do a few little things. Then maybe I'll feel better.

cat said...

I do that too! It is so nice to hear someone else to say that they aren't somehow supernaturally motivated at all times to get things done. I usually require a bit more self cajoling - my first response often emulates a two year old.

I like lists too. But instead of 'clean kitchen' I would put 'put butter away' and 'put cap back on olive oil' or 'wipe down front of microwave'. If I break it down into lots of little things that can be done and checked off quickly, it makes me feel like I am making progress. Tread carefully though as a long list can be just as overwhelming as a large stack of dishes.

bunnyslippers said...

I’m with ya!

My coping mechanism is to tell myself that I have to put away or deal with ten little things before I quit. Ten sometimes leads to fifteen, and the room is a bit better than it was. (it never leads to immaculate, but that's not going to happen if i just sit and wallow anyways.)

I tried a new trick with my office (aka the source of spiritual pestilence and the haven for all things that cannot be dealt with). I set a kitchen timer and spent precisely 20 minutes in the room. Then I left with a big bag of ‘baggage’ that was no longer contributing to the overwhelming nature of that evil space. I felt better and am proud of myself for it. (darn soul-sucking room)

honeybecke said...

ack, it does get a bit much, doesn't it.
i was reading in one of my annoying parenting magazines recently about a mom who was going nuts with all the dishes her family of 8 was making...no one was cleaning up after themselves and the dishes were always dirty (kinda sounds like my college roommates and i!) and yah, she got so dang fed up with it that she packed up all her dishes and put them up into storage. she then took her kiddos to a paint your own ceramic studio and had each child (even the toddlers, with some help) paint their own plate and bowl (one each!) and made sure their names were on them. THAT way, each child had their own dish and they were in charge of washing it up and if, by chance, they didn't and left it out on the counter then the smart mama knew whodunit. sounds freakin' brilliant to me.

well, good job on starting the laundry! i just ran over a basket of clean (wet, prolly stinky by now) clothes in the garage and i was all, meh, leave it.

Lindsay said...

Can I get an AMEN! I feel this way with school. Rather than be ridiculous and say I will work for 4 hrs and be on top of my game, I say do 5 minutes and see what happens. Apparently everything is about momentum, and you just have to start it.

desperate housewife said...

I do this exact thing. In fact I've done the SPECIFIC use-napkin-to-pick-up-ant thing more times than I care to remember during the great Antgate of '08 this summer. Bleh.
But it's actually what we always encourage kids to do, when they get overwhelmed: "There's no WAY I can clean the WHOLE PLAYROOM! There's stuff EVERYWHERE!" And we say gently, "One thing at a time. Where can you start?" So it makes perfect sense that every once in a while we have to do it to ourselves, too.

Emily W said...

This is totally corny, but what an inspiration you are. I get overwhelmed at the stuff I have to do, and here's me just moving in with my boyfriend and we're setting up a house together and we have tons of spare time to do stuff and not THAT much stuff to do.

Also, I'm becoming quite domestic now. It's a little startling, but I'm rolling with it.

allstarme said...

Ahh I do that same thing! Except somehow the laundry all gets folded and I end up exhausted and resenting my husband. But still! It got done.

Astarte said...

I totally get this; sometimes it's like I'm doing a mental pee-pee dance!

What IS it with laundry?! It IS fine to start, but gets less and less satisfying as it progresses until it's completely the OPPOSITE of fun, which is when it is placed, (finally) folded in the foldable hamper, and that is the point at which I commence with ignoring it altogether. When you think about it, I waste a lot of money on dressers.

jonniker said...

I do this too! Also, I make lists of things I've already done and cross them off. It feels better, even though I've done NOTHING.

AndreAnna said...

This is a great idea!

Beth Fish said...

Just to focus on the least significant portion of the post, if you are still thinking vinyl tiles for the dining room, we put some in to our old house that were not expensive and that I was very happy with and I have the leftovers in the garage if you want the name and brand.

Hillary said...

Yes! And yes! to Jonniker, too, with the lists of already-done things. It's so satisfying to see tasks crossed off that it often creates motivation.

I also find it helps to give myself time limits. Yes, self, you can lollygag on the internet insted of working. But (said in a sterner voice) only for xx* minutes.

* Usually xx minutes = however many it takes to get to the next hour or half-hour.

CP said...

Can you sit in my pocket and talk to me all day long like this? Maybe I will actually get something done?

cait said...

Wow! I'm glad to hear that something like this actually works in practice.

I'm in college and I struggle HARD with procrastination, and all the self-help articles I've read say to start small and see if the momentum starts on its own. So to know that it actually does help is great!

Erin said...

I so do that too! It's the motivation I need just to keep the house in some sort of order!

Also, I tagged you for a meme! I'll still adore you even if you don't do it though! :)

Fiona Picklebottom said...

YES! I play this game EVERY SINGLE DAY of my life!

Kate @ Life As I Live It said...

Oh my stars! I totally have this same problem - I am just paralyzed by the To Do list and feel unable to do even *one* little thing.

Not to mention that I have total Adult Distractive Disorder; I'll be on my way to throw an armful of dirty clothes that I've picked up off various floors into the laundry, then I'll notice that the catbox needs to be cleaned, which then leads me to sweeping the laundry room (where said catbox is) and while I've got the broom in hand, I head to the kitchen to sweep, only to feel exasperated at all the crap on my kitchen counter, so I start clearing *that* off...which leads to 12 other discombobulated tasks. And the laundry never gets done. (sigh...)

Some days I have to outloud remind myself what I intended to do. "Put down the broom, Kate, and DO.THE.LAUNDRY."

Erin said...

Oh my goodness. I love this. And I love that one of your examples included putting away the oven mit. Because I totally know what you mean. When I find myself making lists and including things like, "pick up dirty cup," I know I'm in trouble.

Erin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Danell said...

Speaking of lists and crossing items off:

My friend/coworker stayed at our boss's house while she was out of town recently. Our boss is a list-maker. My friend noticed an old list on the counter. Number one on the list? "Get up." It was crossed off, at least. Funniest part is that our boss isn't exactly a jokester.

Kristi said...

Baby steps...sometimes I think my day is just a series of baby steps!

Hairline Fracture said...

I do this too! (And making already-done lists.) I think I just need to add your idea of praising myself for the minimums. Because instead I usually just mentally berate myself for the things I didn't do. "But the laundry's still not folded!"

Leeann said...

Sometimes I just *LOVE* you!

I'm serious.

You are so honest and real, I wish I knew you in real life.

I need a you in my life! ;-)

Leeann
niccofive.blogspot.com

Michelle said...

Oh, I SO get that. And ummm I admit to sometimes having to redo laundry because I "forgot" about it (read, ignored it long enough). But yep, between the "I'll just do one thing while I get up for a drink" and the whiteboard with my daily to do list, I usually get at least *something* done each day!

And now I'm off to go put away some crayons.

Anna said...

AH HAHA HAHAHA

I laughed so hard at that part about the mitt and the ant and the self congratulating.

Elizabeth said...

This happens to me all the time. So much to do, that I will never get it all done, so why bother doing ANY of it? The way I get around it is to just to ask myself, as I go around the house "Do you know what to do with that?" and then if the answer is yes, I do it. So things get put away or thrown out or dealt with, one at a time, and I can deal with one at a time. It's the only way I can get out of my own crazy head sometimes.

Katie said...

Swistle, this is why I love you. You just GET it.

I just decided tonight that until this baby is born, I am doing ONE THING each day. Well, other than the ten million other things....but one semi-biggish thing. Like, vacuuming the main floor. Or cleaning a bathroom counter and mirror. One thing. I wonder how long I can keep that up?

InTheDesert said...

I LOVE your head!!!
It sounds JUST LIKE MINE..
Sorry didn't mean to SCREAM at you-this entry just really made me laugh and nod emphatically and I get it totally.

Omaha Mama said...

This post comes at a perfect time. My home looks much like you describe, only maybe a little worse. And I want to go hide my head under my pillow.

Shelly said...

Excellent strategy! I'm going to use this immediately.

wafelenbak said...

THANK YOU for this post. So glad it's not just me. I am skipping the gym tonight to stay in and straighten up, and I would actually much rather go to the gym. That's pretty bad!!

Tessie said...

This is exactly how I deal with exercise. Don't think about it, just think of something I AM willing to do, and start there.

clueless but hopeful mama said...

Love this post. It reminds me of Anne Lamott (who I'm about to butcher with this paraphrase) who suggested to treat ourselves like we would our dearest mental patient relative. Lots of hand holding, praise and treats.

Jess said...

This is a BRILLIANT strategy. You are FULL of those.

Julie said...

I love this post! I am a big fan of the inner monologue pep talk. :)

Marie Green said...

yes, love this. Usually this train of thinking DOES lead to me being on a roll, and then once I accomplish several of the things that were weighing me down I feel SO MUCH better. For me, it's the momentum- once I get going I'm fine, but if I get interrupted too much (KIDS) or distracted too much (Facebook, blogs, email), then I loose my momentum.

Uh oh. I think that very thing is happening RIGHT NOW. Must run before I get too sucked into this machine!

Mary said...

That was awesome. I've never thought of it that way. I hope when I'm feeling completely overwhelmed that I will think of this. Thank you. I only have 4 kids but I always check your blog to see if what you do with 5 can help- it usually does. I sometimes wish my oldest was over 6 though and could be more of an actual help.

Mommy Daisy said...

I love this. I do the same thing, especially when things are so overwhelming and I'm busy busy.

I like the "if I do this, then it's one less thing to do later". I don't have to do the whole sink full of dishes, but if I just wash the two pans there then I can put them away and not do it later.

Amber said...

I LOVE this. Great mindset. I hope I can use it too.

Farrell said...

LOVE IT! Will employ immediately.

Maggie said...

This is so often my approach to exercise. I tell myself things like "fine, I'll run on the treadmill, but only for five minutes because I just can't take any more." Then after I've run 5 minutes I think I can run only 5 minutes more. I can usually go on like that for the entire time I usually plan to exercise. The end result is the same, but getting there just takes being willing to give myself a break if it just isn't happening.

Swati said...

Yes, I also wish you could sit on my shoulder and talk to me the whole day... Anyway, am linking to yours on a post of mine :)