Just… can’t… focus…

When dealing with overwhelm at work, I often struggle with analysis paralysis.  Heard of it?  It’s the inability to choose one option, when presented with a boatload of options.  That’s a scientific term right there – boatload.

analysis paralysis do mindless tasks instead

So many Pop Tarts! Which one to choose?

Now, where was I again?  Oh, yes – trying to pick which task to start on first at work.  So damn many choices!  How do I pick just one!?  What if I don’t pick the right one?  What if…Squirrel!

Well, on the days when everything is important, but nothing is urgent, and you just. can’t. focus…  The option might be to choose “none of the above”.

“Blasphemy!” you say?  I say, “No!”  In a University of California, Davis study cited by Erin Doland in a couple of posts on Unclutterer, it was found that over-worked employees who introduced mindless tasks into their daily routine enjoyed enhanced efficiency and creativity.  In a November 2011 article, Erin provides a great list of mindless, but absolutely useful, tasks that often go undone.

Recently, I employed this tactic on a day when I just wasn’t feelin’ it, and I went down the list, item by item, and completed each one.  Here’s Erin’s list, and what I did with it.

  • File.  I keep my work files up to date, so I reorganized my files a bit, to eliminate a stand-alone file cart that I was able to move out of my workspace.
  • Review your bulletin board. I don’t use a bulletin board, so I reviewed the papers in my reference files.
  • Clean your work surface.  I disinfected my work surface, keyboard, mouse and phones – desk and mobile.  I even disinfected my lotion bottle, since I use that several times a day.
  • Enter info off business cards.  I plugged in a couple of business cards I found while moving my file folders around.
  • Back up your computer.  This is taken care of by our IT department, so I decided to clean up my computer desktop, and moved/deleted files as necessary.
  • Unclutter your bookshelves.  I used to use a lot of binders in my daily life (before moving almost to exclusively digital files), and I had held onto several from two years ago.  I cleaned them out, and placed the empty binders into a community supply area for my still-analog coworkers to use.
  • Equipment check.  Erin recommends taking stock of all your electronics – are you using all of it?  Do you know how to use all of it?  I don’t have any equipment I’m not using, so I took this time to review the apps on my iPhone, and ended up deleting a few.
  • Restock.  I went “supply shopping” when I dropped off my old binders, and picked up some paper clips and some more correction tape I’d been a bit low on.

The mindless work took the better part of the morning, and by lunchtime, my desk was the envy of the neighborhood. I felt better in the space, too.  The desktop was clean and well organized.  I had put away many of the papers that had been nagging at me, causing a surprising amount of mental drain, and I felt lighter and freer of mind.

Coolest part?  I was able to crank out two major deliverables that afternoon.  I was surprised by the boon I experienced.  I had more energy that afternoon, and was really able to focus on my work.

The benefits have lasted a few weeks now, since my workspace is still clutter-free and organized.  I have come in each morning to a clean desktop, empty in-box, and a calmer workspace.  I still have more to do than I can get to, so the overwhelm still exists, but my workspace certainly promotes a calmer environment in which to feel overwhelmed.

What I haven’t done yet is to add mindless tasks to my daily schedule at work.  The study found that the effects were greatest when the mindless work was intermingled with the mindful work – the employees had to switch from mindful work to mindless work and then back again, in order to experience the increased efficiency and creativity.  Therefore, taking a morning to be mindless was great, but if I want to reap ongoing benefits, I should schedule the upkeep of my desk into my day on a regular basis.

Will you try this?  Have you tried this?  How did it affect you?  What mindless tasks do you have on your schedule?


My detailed housekeeping schedule = Epic Fail

The kitchen today. Le sigh.

I’m not even kidding with this title. Several years ago, before kids and before two dogs, I created the most elaborate cleaning schedule you’ve ever seen. I created it in Excel, and then entered the whole massive thing, task by task into RememberTheMilk.

Tangent: Do you know about RememberTheMilk (RTM)? It’s a fantastic tool for task lists, birthday reminders, other stuff you don’t want to forget about… I’ve used it for many years. You should check it out if you’re looking for something like that.

I spent hours upon hours doing all of this. With the amount of time I spent creating this bizarrely complicated schedule, I could have cleaned the whole house top to bottom, inside and out. No lie.

I included weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual tasks, and set them all up to recur automatically on schedule. I even created a laundry schedule, so that I didn’t have to do all of the laundry on one day, which had always overwhelmed me.

And, it worked… sort of… for a while… I started doing one load of laundry a day, I had a few quick housekeeping chores to manage each day, and the housework ran smoothly for a couple months. But, when I started getting really busy at work again (each year, I get really busy June through October, and work a ton of overtime), my routine fell to shit, and the housework and laundry started to pile up around me again.

I think the problem is that my beautiful, elaborate, extensive, big, all-inclusive list of chores is incredibly overwhelming. I mean, the fact of the matter is that I don’t want to delete it all out of RTM because it took me so very long to put in there in the first place.

There are more than a hundred recurring tasks in there related to the management of our household. MORE THAN A HUNDRED. That’s not an exaggeration. AND, it’s only MY portion of the chores! It doesn’t include things that my husband is responsible for – things like home repairs, lawn mowing, garbage day, etc.

So, um, why do you suppose I’m feeling overwhelmed and avoiding doing any housework?

I swear, we wouldn't have clean laundry if it wasn't for my wonderful husband.

I haven’t worked up the courage to delete all of the RTM tasks yet, but I think that a different approach is probably in order. I have some ideas, but they are a fairly radical departure from what I currently not doing, so I haven’t taken the plunge yet. I’ll share some of my ideas next week. Until then…

What does your housekeeping routine look like? How far behind in your laundry are YOU (please say I’m not alone)?