One of the common culprits here is that you have been distracted and unable to concentrate on a particular task long enough to finish it. Yes: many of the things we have to do are tedious and we tend to find ways to procrastinate. Sadly, procrastination is easier than punching through and getting things done, but there are other forces at play here and some of those can actually be neutralised to some degree.
What am I talking about? Here’s a short story to highlight the issue:
Imagine someone, let’s call her Barbara, doing chores at home. She looks at the floors and decides to start out with the vacuum cleaner in her lounge. Halfway done, she realises that there are magazines on the floor, so she proceeds to move them to a spot that had already been vacuumed. While doing this, her gaze falls on an interesting title page and decides to start reading it. A short break turns into the need for a cup of tea to go with the magazine. Once in the kitchen (with the magazine in hand), she puts the kettle on and – to make good use of the time it takes for the water to boil – she starts emptying the dishwasher. Then the water boils halfway through. Cup of tea is ready, she goes back to the lounge, but there are magazines on her favourite chair, so she puts down the cup of tea on a shelf to clear her chair. Realising that there is a lot of dust on that shelf she walks out to get the duster, starts dusting and finds that in order to do that properly, she’ll have to move some of the objects on the shelf unit … you get the idea.
By the end of the morning, not only has no single chore been fully finished but a lot of stuff has been relocated into inconvenient locations. The piles of magazines have started colonies all over the place, the vacuum and duster now live in the lounge, Barbara has put the tea mug and assorted dirty dishes into the half-emptied dishwasher and has forgotten which dishes had already been done, etc.
The issue here is being distracted from a started chore over and over again. Distractions come in many shapes and sizes, but some of them can really be kept at a minimum.
The trick is to realise that your attention is being pulled away from the task at hand and NOT act on it straight away. Sometimes it is necessary to put a chore on hold and prepare an area before continuing, but you have to keep in mind that what you are doing is in order to allow you to finish that original chore. Barbara failed in that when she decided to read that article and things unravelled as she went along. Don’t get me wrong: sometimes interruptions are normal. Nobody has a completely empty floor that allows to vacuum in one go, at the very least we need to move some chairs or lift up a piece of carpet, but the focus should always stay on the original task you are working on.
If you come across something else that needs doing, take a mental note of it (or even write it down) and then return to the original task at hand. This will achieve two goals at once: the original task will actually be finished (and Barbara can return the vacuum to its own place), and the next task will be obvious and not quite as random as looking around and wondering what to do next.
Another concept that Barbara needs to start embracing is to concentrate on finishing tasks, especially the small ones: that dishwasher could have been emptied in another 5 minutes, allowing not only to be done with that one task and avoid confusion later on, but for her cup of tea to conveniently cool down to drinking temperature.
The way things were going for her, her day ended with at least three half-finished chores (vacuuming, dusting and clearing the dishwasher), an additional chore (putting the magazines back together and clearing the space again, and putting materials away again (duster and vacuum). All in all, not productive at all, and I for one can certainly see why she would end up thinking “what have I done all day?”. All she did was shuffle things around, really.
Distractions are hard to avoid, but one way to achieve it is by limiting the amount of things that have a potential to distract you in the first place. Making sure there is no clutter to start with is clearly the way to go here, and that brings us around to the point where we have to become aware what is clutter to us, and what holds valid emotional value.
One extreme reaction to this conundrum would be to keep everything empty and sticking to what you absolutely need, which is the minimalist approach. Admittedly, this is not the way to go for the majority of us, though it holds a certain appeal for many. The other end of the spectrum is to keep everything and accumulate more things as we go along, but unfortunately this is a slippery slope that can easily lead to not just physical overload, but ultimately will turn into a hoarding disorder. And we all know that is certainly a bad thing for your emotional and physical health and wellbeing.
As with most things in life, we have to find a balance between two extremes that allow us to live happily: and I believe that means keeping enough to fulfil our practical and emotional needs, but not having so much that it creates a practical and psychological burden. That balance is different for each individual and if you share your home with other people, be they family or friends, you will be well aware that each of you has different thresholds for clutter, cleanliness, need of empty space, brightness, temperature, etc.
While this may create discussions on occasion, try to think of this as a kick in the backside that allows you to re-evaluate our own view of things and adjust to accommodate not just the ‘others’ but actively decide what is best for you at that time. If you are like Barbara who lives alone, you have to remind yourself regularly that things do not have to remain the way they are right now. You CAN allow yourself to make changes, and take it from me: making small (and even big) changes is not as bad by far as not being able to see that changes have become necessary.
Getting stuck in the ‘same old same old’ is the worst thing that can happen to anyone, and that is where those distractions can be a helpful reminder to question how you are running ship and where to make changes. In that manner, try and think of distractions as an alarm of sorts going off: if you are getting distracted all the time, something is not quite right. You just have to find out what it is and eliminate it once and for all.
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Hi, my name is Tilo Flache. My mission: help clients declutter mind and space.
This blog contains pointers for your journey towards a happier living experience.