Getting Things Done When Everything Keeps Getting Undone

Photo from Photopin, Creative Commons License

Photo from Photopin, Creative Commons License

Here we are in 2013. This is the time of year when we all look back to take stock of what we have accomplished and renew our plans for the future, right? Does this make you feel giddy or defeated?

Does it feel like you got anything done last year?

This is particularly hard to answer when you have children, no maid, and forgo a fulfilling career to be a homeschooling parent. Life seems to move forward in a blur of activity from morning till night, but it’s hard to pinpoint any one thing to say “Here’s What I Did!”

Let me help you with that.

Here are my top 5 antidotes for homemakers frustrated with perpetual lack of accomplishment:

Reframe your noble purpose

One of the things that really stuck in my memory back in physics class was the concept of entropy, or the way that nature tends to move from order to disorder in an isolated system. I’ve always thought this concept applied spectacularly well to a household, particularly one with children in it. As a “home maker,” it was always hard to really say what I did or accomplished during the day, other than hold back the forces of entropy. This sounds much more majestic than: washing dishes, folding clothes, cleaning up messes, pulling weeds, changing diapers, cooking meals that are immediately eaten, or any of the other things homemakers routinely do. The problem with housework is that you spend a lot of time re-doing things that keep getting undone. It’s demoralizing.

That’s why you have to reframe the idea of housework in your mind. It is not an exercise in futility – but a vital force weaving order from the void of chaos! How’s THAT for purpose? Looking at it this way helps to put your work in perspective. What you do is valuable and would certainly be noticed if you stopped doing it. Nature depends on us to keep humanity humming along.  I write more about this here.

Do something every day that cannot be undone.

I heard this tip a long time ago and it is so true. Of course, everything will become undone in time, but some things last longer. Create one scrapbook page, organize a drawer, write a page in your journal, draw a picture, purge your children’s outgrown clothes, read a book, plant a tree . . . you get the idea. Give yourself the gift of progress, however small it may be.

Never underestimate the value of 10 minutes.

One of the most enduring principles of learning, time management, and eating elephants is to break something big into little parts. You may not have time to clean out your whole refrigerator, but perhaps you can just manage the produce drawers. Maybe the next day you’ll have time for one shelf. Don’t keep putting off a job until you have time to do the whole thing, just break it into chunks that fit the time you have. [Note: I do not condone eating elephants – it’s just a metaphor.]

Keep a journal.

You do way more than you think, even if it seems mundane. There are moments of beauty and grace sprinkled throughout your days, and keeping a journal will force you to notice them. You may be driving your kids to baseball practice for the 100th time but today the kids invented a new game in the car of telling stories backwards. Or maybe you struck up a conversation with someone new at the playground or rescued a stray cat or made four jars of sauerkraut. These little things add up to a full life, but if you don’t add them up, you’ll forget where they all went.

Keep learning.

Washing dishes is repetitive, but learning is cumulative. It builds upon itself, broadens your perspective, and engages your curiosity all at the same time. You may be wondering how on earth you would have time to learn anything when you have so much else to do, but this falls under the same category of “Never underestimate the value of 10 minutes.” Pick something that interests you, but is challenging – something that will make you grow. If it is a book, read a few pages a day. If it is a musical instrument, practice for 10 minutes a day. If it is a foreign language CD, listen for 10 minutes on the way to the grocery store. Then, make a note of what you learned in your journal each day. At the end of the year, you really will have the satisfaction of a particular accomplishment.

These years when your kids are at home will be gone sooner than you can imagine, and then you will have time to accomplish some of the other goals lingering in the back of your mind. But right now you are doing a very important job. Don’t beat yourself up over days lost to seemingly meaningless logistics. And don’t beat yourself up if your house is a mess either. You are in the midst of a long-term project, nurturing people that will change the world . . . and THAT is an accomplishment to be proud of!


photo credit: Bill Stickers -c via photopin cc

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4 Responses

  1. Hi Jamie. I just discovered your blog through WizIQ. I also blog about productivity and parenthood. I love your ideas. They are unlike so much of the usual advice we see over and over again.I’m going to put them to work right away!

    • Jamie McMillin says:

      Hi Evelyn,
      Thank you! I checked out your website/blog too and it certainly seems like we have a lot in common. However, I must admit that I am not a perfectionist, and that probably influences a lot of my theories 🙂
      Congratulations on your book – I do hope you’re finding time to write another one!

  2. Barbara Patton says:

    You are so wise. I wish I could have read your blog when I was raising my children.
    Your Mother