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Monday, September 12, 2011

Get Everything Done in Fifteen Minutes

My to-do list hanging under my
kitchen cabinets
As you know, I'm always struggling with getting everything done, especially now that I work from home. I crave a routine, yet I'm fickle and get bored easily. When I was little, I would set myself a schedule for summer vacations:

9 AM-9:30 AM: Eat breakfast
9:30-10: Read
10-11: Play with barbies
11-12: Ride Bikes
12-1: Eat lunch
1-3: Go to lake

I'm serious. I was that much of a dork. In fact, you can probably scratch out "Ride bikes" and put in "work on activity books." I loved logic puzzles and activity books. I loved school. I loved to read. I was a big geek. (Still am).

Anyway, I loved coming up with my schedule. And I usually followed it until 10 AM, when my friend would come across the street and ask to play, and the entire thing would go out the window.

I'm still a little like that. Sometimes it feels like all or nothing. I need a routine to stick to, because if I don't have one, my life feels chaotic. But it's hard to stick to any kind of schedule or routine when you have kids. I'm slowly finding my groove, though. I tried doing the baby steps on for a while, but it took too long to shine my sink. And I use my sink all the time. So I was constantly shining it. My sink was sparkling, but it was the only thing I would get done each day. And one of the other baby steps was to put on your shoes in the morning. Well, I like to be barefoot. I feel like I can get much more accomplished without restrictive footwear on.

So then I decided I would adapt the Fly Lady technique by adding in what's important to me. I would exercise on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and I would sew all day on Tuesday. And that was fine, but sometimes Little M sleeps better on Mondays, making it a better sewing day. And truthfully, if I sew all day, I get bored. And I don't get anything else done.

So I changed up the formula again, and I think I've come up with the magic combination to restore my sanity:
  1. Make to-do lists
  2. Do things in 15 minute chunks
Let's dissect these two simple steps.

Make To-Do Lists

I've dabbled with making lists all my life. I'm the kind of person who gets carried away with them and has to make lists of lists and indexes to classify my lists. And then I lose one, and I can't remember my name because it was on the list.

I've made to-do lists that are like an outline for a thesis paper, with headings, subheadings, and details. If I don't write things down, I tend to forget. So when my brain is on overdrive, I frantically scribble down everything that I'm thinking.

Those lists don't work either; they just make me feel like I'm running on a treadmill that's going faster than I am.

Now, I keep a weekly  to-do list. I hang it in my kitchen so it's easily accessible and I don't lose it. (I hammered a nail in right under the counter, and I use scrap paper hung on the nail with a binder clip). Since I have to fit my whole week on one paper, I have to keep it relatively brief. And if I didn't get anything done at the end of the week, I can just crumple up the piece of paper and toss it, and it's not bound in an agenda, haunting me with the things I couldn't accomplish.

I have two methods of making the list:
  1. Write everything down at the beginning of the week. Every evening, pick three or four things to accomplish. Highlight those. Scribble them out when you accomplish them. The next day, highlight three or four more things to get done the next day.
  2. Write the general to-do list on the left, and add a smaller, daily list in a column to the right. The daily list can include the stupid stuff or simple reminders that you don't want cluttering up the main list. Like "Call the library to find out book due dates." I forgot to write that on my list today, so I forgot to do it. I've been preferring method #2 for this reason.
For the past two weeks, I kind of slacked on the list, and I felt like a chicken with my head cut off.

Here's why using a to-do list helps me stay sane:
  • I don't have to keep trivial information in my head, so it's clearer to think about other things.
  • It's fun to cross things off the list - So if I'm faced with doing something that's not on my list (like clicking aimlessly on Facebook), I'll do something from my list instead, just so I can cross it off.
  • It keeps me on track - There are those days that you wander aimlessly around the house, doing laundry but then forgetting you have wet, soggy clothes in the washer because you ditched them to clean the bathroom, but got sidetracked by your dusty molding. I do the same thing on the Internet. I start by browsing the blogs I've subscribed to and making comments, but then get sidetracked by someone else's comment, and before you know it, I'm reading a tutorial about how to macrame a magic carpet. If I have a list, these things don't happen, unless it's the end of the day and I've gotten everything done, and I can let my mind wander
  • It gives me options - there are quiet moments when the kids are sleeping that I have plenty of time to get a large project accomplished, and there are chaotic moments when Little M won't let me put him down and is only happy if I'm darting around the house, giving him something new to look at every five minutes. Having a list gives me things to do in all these types of moments. I don't get upset if my sewing project is cut short because Little M wakes up; instead, I move onto something on my list that I can accomplish with him in my arms or in a carrier. I'll get another chance to go back to the sewing, because it's on my list. I won't forget to cross it off.

Do Big Projects in 15-Minute Chunks

When I have a giant project in front of me, I tend to get overwhelmed. When I'm overwhelmed, I tend to do nothing.Well, not exactly nothing--I sit on the couch and eat ice cream. But I don't do the project. One huge project I have is to clean up the yard. I don't mean put away toys, I mean hack through the thick undergrowth that I have let get out of hand for the past year and a half. I have four different areas of my yards that are gardens. At least they used to be. Now, they are more reminiscent of the Amazon, with giant bugs and towering fronds of weed. And not the good kind of weed. Weeds.

It's kind of disgusting. Doing it all at once would be exhausting and overwhelming, not to mention the fact that it's really hard to do yard work while keeping grass out of Little M's throat and fire ants out of Baby T's shoes. Or trying to keep Baby T from hacking a hole in Little M's head with his little garden rake. So I've been doing it in 15-minute chunks, and it's surprisingly coming along quite well. I can't wait to show you pictures.

The 15-minute thing works for junk mail that has gotten out of hand, vacuuming, and even doing laundry. One other trick for controlling clutter that a friend recently told me about is to run around the house and put away as many things as your age. So when the house is a mess and I'm standing in the middle of matchbox cars and little people about to pull my hair out, I do this to get to a neutral zone. It only takes a few minutes, and I usually put everything away. I think the trick is that you do it quickly. You don't dwell on the dusty moldings, and you don't get sidetracked.
    The most important thing that helps me stick to my routine is flexibility. I can't do any one thing all day. It makes me insane. In fact, doing one thing for more than an hour makes me antsy. So planning small, reasonable tasks is much better for me than planning long, intricate projects. That's where the 15 minute thing comes in. But because I often have so many little things to do, it's easy to forget them or to get sidetracked.That's where the list comes in.

    This has been working so well that I'm accomplishing more from noon until dinner time than I used to accomplish all day long, which means that I can go out for a playdate or run errands in the mornings instead of holing myself up in the house all day and getting bored and stir-crazy at 3 PM.

    By the way, this blog entry was not on my list. I was supposed to write a menu-planning entry instead. So my plan isn't completely foolproof, but I have been getting a lot done. 


    Charise @ I Thought I Knew Mama said... Best Blogger Tips

    You have really put some thought into this! :-) I was thinking as I read this that I probably do things in 15 minute chunks - but without even meaning to. I think that's usually as much time as Baby gives me - or as much time as my sleep deprived brain can focus ;-)

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