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?