Neutralizing tasks

Last week I sent out my sort-of-bi-weekly email about neutralizing tasks. (If you don't get my email, go look on the left sidebar for the signup box and put in your email, click through to confirm when you get the autoreply, and then you'll be on the list.) I talked about how I identified that packing lunches was stressing me out, so I figured out how to neutralize it. I got a few questions about exactly how I did it, so I thought I'd talk about the process. Warning: This is going to get very micro and consequently truly boring.

First of all, about "neutralizing" tasks. I am really trying to just stop doing things that there's no payoff to doing, or see if I can outsource them to someone else. But there are some things that I still have to do, so I'm trying to neutralize them. By that I mean that I'm trying to strip them of their power to drive me nuts. Think about all the tasks you do every day–taking a shower, brushing your teeth, putting on clothes, driving to work–that you do but that don't cause you stress. I'm trying to remove the emotion from them.

I used the Pareto principle to figure out that packing lunches was in my 80% of aggravation. Prime target for neutralization. First step, figure out exactly why it bothered me so much.

I observed myself as I did it for a few days, and observed my feelings about it. I determined that I was feeling anxious about getting it done before school while also doing everything else (herding kids to get dressed and make breakfast, have all the important conversations they want to start exactly then, making sure I'm ready to hit it as soon as they leave). As you can see, I have nowhere near the pressure to get ready in the morning that I used to (or that most of you do) but I was still getting all anious about it. I switched and started packing lunches the night before, but still felt that same anxiety! Weird, but I've started going with my feelings instead of judging them, so I kept observing.

I also identified that I was feeling pressure (from myself, I guess) to pack variety so my kids would stay entertained. Right when I was having that key insight, I got a huge bill for the school lunches my younger son had been eating at school instead of the lunches his dad and I were packing for him. Ha! Most of you know I believe in God, and specifically in a personal God with a smartass sense of humor, and this was yet another example of that. I took the hint and asked my son if he wanted to go legit and start eating school lunch for real, and he said yes. So half my problem disappeared.

That inspired a conversation with my other son about how he really wanted the exact same thing every day. So I let go of the variety myth. And then I realized that the things he wanted to take could all be packed up on Sunday while we were sitting around anyway. So I spend ten minutes packing up my half of the week's lunches on Sunday, and just grab them and stick them in the bag in the morning, and now lunch has no power over me anymore.

My next move is to use the process of observing my feelings about sock maintenance to figure out how to neutralize that.

Did that help? Does anyone have thoughts about neutralizing tasks you hate?

15 thoughts on “Neutralizing tasks”

  1. Sometimes it helps me to decide that I am choosing to do the task rather than having it forced upon me. My two things are cleaning related. One is emptying the litterbox, the other is cleaning out the shower/tub. No one else seems to care that these get done, and no one has been open to taking them over. I care about them like crazy as either one being gross makes me just hate being home (sad but true). For my own happiness, I choose to deal with them both more often than anybody else would. My satisfaction is that it looks and smells better in the home, and I took myself out of the loop of anger that it was always on me. I’m much happier when these are done to my satisfaction, so I choose to get them done instead of being upset that somebody else won’t do it for me. I’ve recently decided I would be even happier with a different color scheme in the bathroom, and have been looking around for the perfect items that will please me. This all feels much nicer than feeling the ways I did before: how come the dirty jobs are all mine, how come nobody else will want what I want, why don’t they caaaaaaaaaare? The fact is, the stuff they care about, they handle very well without my intervention, and I don’t need to do those things. My attitude adjustment is freeing me up to find a splashy shower curtain and new towels that will be wonderful to wake up to.

  2. I just found you through a FB post of my niece’s. Wow! Great stuff and I do agree that your post on the Relationship of Mothering vs. the Job of Mothering is profound! About tasks that you hate…I am the mother of a 17 year old developmentally delayed son who has worn diapers ALL his life and, even though I have done an insane amount of therapies, drugs, surgeries, trips to specialist, behavioral training he remains unable to consistently use the toilet for himself. At this point, if we keep him reminded every hour, and point him in the right direction, he can frequently keep himself dry for several hours at a stretch. But if its a difficult day, or he is ill, or we forget for longer than 15 minutes, or we take him out of his home environment all previous successes are nullified. And you don’t even want to hear about the challenges of the surprise of messes in the diapers! Needless to say, I HATE DIAPERING! More than 80%! One day, when my son was 14,I felt I had reached THE END of my rope. I was DONE! I felt I could not longer do this. You have shared that you believe in a personal God so I will share that in my distress I turned to the only One I felt knew the answer to my need. I prayed, “God, you’ve got to help me here. I have been changing diapers all my son’s life. And before that his 4 sister’s needed theirs changed for at least 2 years each! Lord, that’s over [at the time] 22 years I’ve been changing diapers! I think that’s too much. Help me see it differently or make it end, please.” I looked at my son, patiently lying there waiting for mom to finished changing his messy diaper, the tears in my eyes blurring my vision and I remembered the verse in Matthew 25:38 & 4038 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
    40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
    Through my tears I looked at my son, and I imagined, “What if it was my Jesus, lying here, needing my help in the same way my son needs my help?” And things changed, not outwardly, but in my heart. And you are right, it IS relationship which redeems the mundane task and makes it something of honor. My job changed that day. I saw that I was not just doing a job, I was in relationship with this young man who had been entrusted to me by my God, and I COULD do the task set before me. And even though others may not know or even value what I do, God knows and He sees and He understands. I’ve added almost 4 more years of diapering to total more than 26 years of daily diapering. My husband works alongside me, sharing the load, doing the extra work when I need a break, taking even more on as our son gets older. But you are so right, it is how we see things that will change us, and neutralize the power hated tasks have over us. Thank-you for a chance to share and thank-you for supporting moms everywhere with your keen insights and helpful writings.

  3. Sock maintenance is also something that drives me crazy. I recently asked each boy what his preferred style of sock is and ordered 18 pairs for each child. When they arrive, I will toss, hand-down or hide (haven’t decided which yet) the 50 different socks that only have 1 mate. Each child will only have 1 style of sock available and they will all match each other.

  4. I have 2 things I’ve just decided to let go/neutralize.1: sleep. I’m exhausted all the time, especially when my husband travels. So, now I drop the girls off at school and come home and sleep an extra hour. Its much better for me than a nap and I can function for the rest of the day without thinking about how tired I am.
    2. Lunch, for me, is a huge issue. Since I cook dinner 5x a week, I hate getting lunch ready for me, the kids no big deal, me yes. So 3x a week I’m going out and buying a greek salad from a local place down the road. It costs me around 20 dollars a week but for me to eat well and not stress about what to cook, its worth it!

  5. I am still thinking about my 80%, but I have a sock suggestion for you. My mom had me safety pin the toes of my socks together before putting them in the laundry. We always had lots of pins, from dry cleaning. I was only 7 or 8 when we started doing this. Now that I am a mom too, I recognize this as a great solution to something that must have drove her nuts.

  6. Do your kids care about sock maintenance? Could you just toss socks in a basket and leave the children to choose their own socks on a daily basis? Maybe keep a pair of black socks for each kid in a secret spot so they’ll be available when needed.

  7. My 80% might be dinners. I know I need to figure it out, but where is the time to figure it out. Anyway… I have to say that socks don’t bother me. I wash one kids laundry at a time. Sometimes socks don’t pair up, but then I just throw it in a rouge sock box on top of the dryer or check that box for its pair. I like colored socks. They’re cute, and I give them as gifts for holidays. They’re maybe clutter, but they’re wearable/useful clutter, so I don’t mind so much. Valentine’s day each girl is getting a pair of socks and a book.Also, I’m not religious, but I don’t mind if the way that you cope with something is by your relationship with religion. I just hope that others would not suggest/require that I deal with things that way.

  8. I love how you really broke down the misery of lunch packing and fixed the problem! High fives for you!!We also had the sock problem- or rather I had the sock problem. I solved this mainly by having one type of sock per kid and by splurging and buying Uggs for my kids. They don’t need socks with them and the days they actually need socks are limited or sports related. It helps that we live in the south and it really doesn’t get all that cold here. These two things have virtually eliminated the sock stress.
    The suggestion to have the kids pin them together was excellent.

  9. Haha, my DH has sock-matching angst and I deal with it by ignoring it (his angst). He can always sort through the socks himself (and sometimes does).Yeah, I decided pretty early on to pack my kid the same lunch over and over and over unless he complains/requests variety. It’s not literally the same, but PB&J + 2 fruits/veggies + some kind of chips, so, not challenging. I assemble in the night before.
    I’ll have to mull what I need to neutralize.
    @Donnell Kenworthy I was touched by your story of your experience with your son. I’ll admit — and I know there are no guarantees here — that one of the things that’s helped me through the earlier stages of my DS’s development (he’s now in elementary school) has been the belief that he’ll get more independent as he grows older, and not being able to believe that would it seems to me introduce a pretty major challenge to parenting lovingly and effectively.
    @Moxie I think irony is greatly underrated as a causal force in the universe…

  10. The task for me is the transition into the house after picking up the girls from school. For some reason, that part of the day is almost always difficult for me, and is when I am my most frazzled and harried. I’m usually kind of hungry, there’s always tons of crap to schlep inside (backpacks, my bags, winter stuff, loose paper, etc.)… then the dog is jumping around to be let out, and I need to clean up a bit before I can start dinner. It’s just a yucky transition point. I try to neutralize it by eating a healthy snack at the end of my work day, so I’m not starving. I also change out of my work clothes immediately, and into comfortable clothes. But I’d love other suggestions for how other folks deal with that time period. I can’t be the only one who suffers!

  11. @Rudyinparis, I have the same feelings about returning home, schlepping stuff in from the car, etc. The way I deal with it is just to repeat the mantra “one thing at a time, one thing at a time…” and if necessary say it out loud so my daughter can hear it and remember to stop demanding things from me during that time period.My 80% stressor for a long time was “afternoon rest” which was our substitute for the afternoon nap when that was dropped (way too soon, IMHO, at age 3.0). My daughter is an extrovert and scared of being alone, so trying to get her to stay in her room alone for an hour and play independently was stressing us both out, immensely. Abandoning that rest hour actually made my days less stressful even though I don’t get time to myself in the afternoon. We are both happier without it.

  12. @Rudyinparis, the schlepping in drives me crazy. One thing that helps is to keep a big cloth bag in my car so that my small stuff (lunch bag, mail, car trash, loose paper or the odd school project) can be put into it so I can at least use my key to get in the door. It can all be sorted out after dinner. Then I take the empty bag out to the car with me in the morning. It helps me by keeping the car tidy, because I just cannot stand to be riding around in a garbage truck, or to have to go out and sift through for a paper that needs to be signed.I don’t have a dog but I do have cats who want to be right underfoot and a real tripping hazard when we enter. They know somebody will give them a treat and as much as possible, I try to get my daughter to do it for them so I can leave the room, use the bathroom, and change clothes. We love the pets, but the way they come at us with pent up needs is truly stressful.
    I have also gotten maniacal about cleaning up the kitchen after dinner, because I identified walking into a messy kitchen as a real trigger for wanting to run away. I have low standards for the floor, it’s just the sink, surfaces, and trash level that I care about. I don’t mind putting away clean dishes before I get going on dinner or during its prep, but everything else is too much for me and I know it.
    My other thing is that people invariably want my attention when I am trying to get dinner going, so I give the shortest answer I can at the time and then use their attention to ask them to do a task, such as set silverware, fetch some item, or take kitchen laundry out for me. I feel like it’s good for them to see that this is a busy time and I can’t stop what I’m doing for things that can wait a bit, without actually saying that.

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