How to Tackle That Humongous, Unwieldy Beast of a Nagging Household Chore

How to Tackle That Humongous, Unwieldy Beast of a Nagging Household Chore

Jackie Ashton
Jul 31, 2012

If there were such a thing, I could be a professional procrastinator. I could write a book on the Art of Putting Off Until Later the things that I don't enjoy doing. (Later, noun: a mysterious and elusive capsule of time that never seems to appear.) But, I've recently had an epiphany about how to get nagging household chores off of my to do list.

I'm famous for writing a chore on my to do list, then subsequently avoiding it all day because I find it unpleasant. Then I'll write it on the next day's list, and the next day's list, and so on and so forth until it's six months later and now this measly little chore has become a Humongous Unwieldy Beast of a Nagging Household Chore — a task so mighty and great that I am now completely overwhelmed at the thought of even beginning to tackle it.

Then, I'll write it on yet another list, knowing that I'll never do it because what if one of those coyotes that has been eating small dogs in the Presidio eats me and then who cares if my almost-four year old son's changing table is still in the garage?

I learned from It's Hard to Make a Difference When You Can't Find Your Keys by Marilyn Paul that in order to manage time effectively, procrastinators like me need to estimate the time each task will take. In other words, each item on your to do list should be very specific, it should include an accurate estimate of the time it will take to complete, and you should set a specific time for completing it. (Also, be sure to include a handy box that you can satisfyingly fill in with a check mark upon completion.)

For example:

[ ] Clean up the kitchen: countertop and breakfast table / 20 minutes / 9:00-9:20

This technique works brilliantly for tasks that I enjoy, but is absolutely ineffective for tasks that I loathe. Or for tasks that have become humongous and unwieldy as a result of my procrastination. If you wrote the actual time it would take you to complete the HUBOANHC with which you are faced, it would be so depressing that you'd just give up.

For example:

[ ] Clean out my closet / 9,462 minutes / 9:00am Friday to 12:00am the following Thursday

It's so not happening, right?

Let me offer a mashup of this technique: Pick a small window of time (teeny-tiny if you are a lifelong procrastinator like me) to work on your HUBOANHC. For example, if you are cleaning out your humongous, unwieldy beast of a closet (whose contents — most of them useless, outdated or obsolete — have multiplied like Gremlins), give yourself 10 minutes today. Your to do list will look like this:

[ ] Take the extra hangers out of my closet / 10 minutes / 9:00-9:10

Yes, I can do it! Yesicandoityesicandoityesicandoit! Yes, I can absofreakinglutely do it. I can do anything for 10 minutes. And here's the best part: once you have taken the hangers out, you will be so pleased with yourself (Can I get a hell yeah for a 1:1 ratio of clothing to hangers?) that you will continue to clean the closet. I pretty much guarantee it. You'll feel so good (so productive! so happy!) that you finally took an ice pick to your HUBOANHC and made some actual progress, that you will keep chipping away at it.

You don't have to (and most likely cannot) finish the HUBOANHC today. Anything you do in addition to your 10 minutes of tossing out those ridiculous extra hangers is a bonus and you should eat a cupcake in celebration (with copious amounts of fist-pumps and hell yeahs). The next day, pick another very specific and manageable sub-task that takes 10 minutes, and write it down.

What already-successful-to-do-list-crosser-offers-and-HUBOANHC-tacklers already know is that "later" never happens. (And those coyotes are probably not going to eat me either, although I am still not setting foot in the Presidio after dark.)

Gretchen Rubin's best-selling book The Happiness Project has many pearls of wisdom about happiness and daily life at home; my copy is earmarked and note-filled, with many of its great quotes underlined. One of my favorites reads:

"What you do every day matters more than what you do every once in awhile."

So every day, take an ice pick and chip away at your HUBOANHC.

(Image: Architect Ira Rakatansky's Mid-Century Modern Masterpiece)

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