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A 4-Step Strategy for Handling the Annoying Details of Running a Household

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child carrying a plastic bagI’m not really a details person. I mean, when I’m making a plan (I love making plans), I can create at an infinitely detailed level. I do not, however, like to be the one executing those details.

I’m happy to work, but I’m better with big-picture tasks. Details bog me down. Give me an end goal and a sledge hammer, and I’ll make some major progress.

When we come down to the fine-tuning, though, the wrapping up and finishing work that really complete a project, I’m a mess. I get overwhelmed, I get discouraged, I’m not having fun anymore, and I end up wasting a lot of time procrastinating, which keeps me from truly completing the task or reaching the goal.

Getting lost in details keeps me from getting to my target goal (whatever it happens to be), and the thing that gets me excited is reaching my goal.

Goal-Oriented People Versus Details

laundry tsunami with a womanRunning a household means handling a lot of details. I tend to encounter details in the form of questions. There are the “big” details, like What are we going to eat for dinner? and Where did I put that personal property tax receipt? Then there are the lesser details, such as Why are we always out of Band-Aids? and What does my home owner’s insurance actually cover?

Running a household means coordinating many details, and most of them have to be handled on a recurring basis.

You know what that means, right? Recurring stuff is antithetical to the goal-oriented. We have to keep working and working but none of our work is getting us closer to reaching a goal. I may fold and put away all the laundry, but it will be waiting for me again in three days hours, and I’ll have to do it all over again.

Nothing is more frustrating and depressing to a goal-oriented person than an endlessly recurring task, especially one that a) is complex or b) takes up a lot of time or c) has no easily defined endpoint and/or d) all of the above.

(Laundry fits all of those criteria, at least for me. It’s laundry for six people, which can get complex, trust me. It takes up a huge amount of time. And it has no endpoint, ever, because even as you’re doing the laundry, more dirty laundry is being created for you. In other words, laundry is my personal circle of hell. )

The Endless Parade of Household Details

organized containersLaundry, cleaning, organizing and managing possessions, coordinating a family schedule, dealing with finances, dealing with the mail, handling household paperwork, keeping up with home and car maintenance, overseeing food and menus and meal planning and grocery shopping, running errands, keeping up with wardrobe needs for an entire family, doing yard work…All of those are endlessly recurring, complex, time-consuming tasks with no easily defined endpoint.

I think this is why, for so many of us, managing a household becomes a very demotivating, even depressing, job.

Fortunately there are ways we can make it better.

There are four steps, in fact, that I’ll share with you. For free. Right now.

Each of these steps can be taken individually to better manage the ongoing task/area, whatever it is. The real power, however, is in using all four steps together in one magically delicious, rainbow-spewing, unicorn-taming strategy of triumph.

Step 1: Use Routines

When you create a routine for a recurring task, you immediately get rid of that “I’m never done with this” feeling. Yes, since it’s a routine, you’ll have to tackle it again. But by creating and following that routine, you give yourself a regular start point and a regular end point.

Whatever the time frame is, when it rolls around again, you know where to start. And more importantly, you know exactly what you have to do to know that you’ve completed the task.

Step 2: Simplify the Area

towels in a basketWhen you simplify an entire area, whether that’s your wardrobe or your financial paperwork, you eliminate an amazing amount of frustration. Much of the time needed to handle household details is required because 1) we have more than we need and 2) we haven’t organized what we do have in a dependable, usable way.

You simplify an entire area by figuring out exactly what you need and getting rid of everything else. It’s drastic, sure: it’s also very, very effective. You will drastically reduce the time and energy needed for a task when you get serious about simplifying.

Cut out the clutter, and you’re no longer dealing with unnecessary details…only necessary ones. Simplifying means that you can zip through your routine much faster, which means you reach the end point (accomplishment) sooner and can get back to the fun (goal-related) stuff you actually want to do.

Step 3: Systematize the Process

When you systematize an entire process, you eliminate the waste of energy and time needed to make the same decisions over and over again. You also get rid of the nagging sense of incompetence you get when you can’t find or are out of the basic supplies needed to do the work.

You can use a routine to great benefit without thinking through an entire system to support it. A routine, however, is part of a system and when you do build a system, your routine becomes much easier to maintain. You have the supplies, you set up a space, you designate a time in your schedule (or another cue), and then you just follow the protocol.

Step 4: Create Goals

man and woman discussingWhen you create your own goals for the recurring details of your life, you give yourself targets that you can measure, reach, and recognize as successes.

This is, to me, the biggest hurdle of consistently dealing with the recurring tasks: the lack of endpoints, or goals, which tell me that I’m doing something right. Though a regular routine does help a lot, bigger goals give me an even bigger boost.

Goals like “Get yard work maintenance down to one hour a week” or “Spend less than $100 a week on groceries” turn a necessary task into a fun challenge. Or at least into a tolerably interesting task.

It’s gamification for your household, with a bonus: when you seriously pursue a goal in one area or another, you’re going to improve the way you manage it. You’ll get better at it, improving your skills and routines. You may even appreciate the complexity and richness of a particular household detail more.

No guarantees on that last one, though; I still haven’t found a way to appreciate having to do laundry. With a little more tangible gamification, though, I think I can get the kids doing their own.

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4 Comments

Posted by Wilson  | October 13, 2015 at 2:08PM | Reply

My brother use different bins for different groups of clothes (white, colourful, delicate) so he doesn’t waste time separating the clothes and he easily knows the amount of clothes for each batch.

Posted by AmyinNZ  | September 20, 2015 at 9:00PM | Reply

Wherever possible I’m a fan of outsourcing recurring tasks – find someone who can spend an hour a day at your place on washing and dishes etc -a great investment to get time back and remove a nuisance! Until the kids are old enough to do it at least.

Posted by Annie Mueller  | September 20, 2015 at 3:03PM | Reply

Cool, hope it helps you out! It was a personal lightbulb moment for me to realize that the reason I dislike a lot of household chores is due to their recurring (often detailed) nature… I was missing the payback of reaching a goal after doing a task.

Posted by Steven  | September 18, 2015 at 5:37AM | Reply

I never quite looked at goal-oriented people versus details in that way. It’s an interesting insight and sheds some light on some of my personal frustrations with certain tasks. Thanks!

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