In my last post I talked about focusing your work as a mother on your actual skill set, your passions, and your gifts. The things that you can do efficiently and relatively effortlessly, the things that give you energy rather than draining it. As I shared my excitement with my husband, I was pretty proud of the novel idea of bringing organizational psychology and outsourcing from the corporate world and into the home-and he started laughing at me. "It's a nice idea...but who is going to say they feel passionately drawn to doing dishes and laundry?" I thought this wasn't quite fair, since he's one of those rare sorts who gets immense satisfaction from doing dishes (lucky me), but I figured that before other people start scoffing and write this idea off, I should address it.
When I talk about gifts, passions, or skill sets, I'm not talking about your grander life vision. I know you might want to write a book or build an orphanage, or live on ten acres in the country with a garden and two dogs, and it's hard to see how doing laundry really coincides with that vision or how you can "care" about organizing the craft cupboard. What I'm talking about here are the daily activities that are a part of running the organization that is your household (hopefully that organization is something you care about or you wouldn't be here). I understand that these activities aren't always the kind of things you would include in a list of your favorite hobbies, but if you have the skills to do them without it being an agonizingly long process or you enjoy them enough that the thought of doing them doesn't suck the life out of you, you can include them in your list of things that don't need to be outsourced.
So, when there's something that does suck the life out of you, or always seems to take longer than it should, how do you stop wasting your time effort and skills that could be used far more efficiently doing something you're actually good at?
I'm still brainstorming answers to this myself, but here's my top 5 suggestions for now...I'd love for you to brainstorm and add your own!
1. Apply the 80/20 rule. The premise of this is that usually 20% of the effort yields 80% of the result and you need to exert 80% more effort to get that last 20%. Are you tracking with this? Think about a paper you got an "A" on in college. You probably researched, wrote an outline, organized your research notes, wrote, revised, revised again, edited and when you were printing your paper out after 10 hours of hard work, some other student was just starting to write his half-assed, disorganized, written in 2 hours the night before paper that he didn't even plan to proofread because he knew it would probably pull a "C" regardless. You wanted the "A" for your GPA or for your professor's approval or whatever, but now when you stop to think about the real reason you think you need to give 100%, it's usually for your critical mother-in-law or for that mean girl you wanted to impress in high school or that snotty mom down the street who criticizes every ingredient you put in the snack you gave her kid last Friday. If the 100% isn't for you or someone you care about, let it go. Can you start thinking of ways to apply this? Like do you really have to make home-made apple pie for the family picnic? Or could store bought cookie dough pull at least a "C"? If you don't feel like you can even pull a "C" (for example my baking will always be a solid "F"), move on to the next 4 tips.
2. Ask for help. Someone told me recently that even when people offered her help, she would blurt out "oh no, I'm fine," without even thinking about it. Of course she would kick herself afterward because she was desperately in need of help, but somehow we're trained to be self-reliant. These days we're expected to be more attached, involved and engaged than parents in the past ever were, but now we're in the context of nuclear families, without the help of the more traditional extended family network to help bear some of the burden. It's not sustainable. There's nothing wrong with asking for help from your spouse, family or friends, returning the favor in kind when it's needed. You'll not only release the burden of that awful, life-sucking task that's been hanging over your head, but you'll be making yourself vulnerable and building relationships in the process.
3. Trade for help. There are people out there who like laundry. Or organizing. Or helping kids with their math homework. I had a friend tell me she spent weeks battling her kids every day to get math homework done. She thought it was something she just had to "push through" until her friend asked if there was anything she would like to trade in exchange for piano lessons. She loves teaching piano. Now her friend teaches her kids math and she gives her friend's kids piano lessons. Life sucking task accomplished. Check. I personally would bring over a giant pot of made-from-scratch stew to anyone who would throw in a load of laundry for me.
4. Pay for help. I know people turn up their nose at this right away. "Thanks a lot, Eve, wouldn't we all love it if we could pay for a housekeeper and personal chef." Trust me, I'm not out of touch. I lived off of a barista's salary for a family of 4 for a good two years. We ate a lot of rice and beans, wore underwear with holes in it, and I thought paying for a babysitter or housekeeper was completely out of the question. But I wish I had considered it. One problem is mom's don't assign a value to what they spend their money on. Think about how much the money you're spending improves your life. An hour of housekeeping is $10 but is worth infinitely more to me than a few lattes. I know you're saying "I don't waste money on lattes. I really don't have any spare income." And that may be true. Senator and former Harvard economics professor Elizabeth Warren says that most of the time wasted money doesn't go to shoes and lattes, but goes into larger, month-to-month expenses. This may require big changes on your families part, but think about whether that extra 500 square feet gives you more enjoyment in your life than 10 hours of babysitting a month. Or whether driving a new car is going to bring you more ease than 35 hours of housekeeping a month. We have 5 kids and live in an 800 square foot house. Because I realized that children under 10 insist on being within a 10 foot radius of you at all times anyway. We drive crappy but reliable used cars because, every time I hand $20 over to that wonderful 19 year old girl who has the energy to play 7 battleship games in 2 hours and the brain cells to remember to switch the load of laundry in between games, I am acutely aware that she is worth more than all the heated seats and power locks in the world.
5. Let it go. Do you need to/want to/have to do it? Or do you have to keep up with the image someone crafted on Facebook or aforementioned mom down the street? If you're giving yourself and your family your skills, your gifts and your passions. That's what they want. And often that's all they need.