Do you ever find yourself drowning in tasks, overwhelmed by your to-do list? Do you ever feel like an automaton, running on nearly empty, endlessly running through a series of things that you need to do?
Let’s change that.
Ten years ago, I had managed to set up my life in a way that was way beyond what I could sustain energetically. I worked full time, had an hourly commute to work each way, I was heavily involved in a church ministry, I had started some intense therapy, and I was trying to maintain a very active social life.
(I recognize that some of you can do all of this while also running a side company and parenting. I admire you, I’m related to people like you, but I am not you. This was killing me.)
In tears one day I called my mother, in complete overwhelm. I couldn’t keep up with the dishes, the laundry, and my sleep. Like any sane, wise mother, she recommended that I ease back on any of my activities. At the time that seemed like an intolerable option – my soul needed the ministry work and the friendships, and practicality demanded I remain employed.
Then, showing her true wisdom, she did not continue to argue with me or point out just how bad my choices were. Instead, she gave me some of the very best advice and practical help I’ve ever received, and foreshadowed the wisdom of my coach trainer and all-around guru, Martha Beck.
The advice? “My goodness, Liz, use paper plates!”
She took it ten steps further when she called up a local laundry service and paid for them to do my laundry. They shipped out laundry bags to me, I filled them, and they picked them up, laundered them and then brought everything back clean and pressed.
Original Image by Xuan Che under creative commons license, text elements added by Liz Connors
(I’ve mentioned that my mother is amazing, right?)
This is possibly the most luxurious thing I’ve ever experienced. It was exactly the help I needed, in a way I could never have dreamed of, and I’ll never forget it. (I still use the durable laundry bags from that experience to sort and haul my laundry today!)
Normally, I’m all in favor of finding the root problem and solving it. However, there are times when the root problem cannot be solved immediately, and the best thing we can do is to solve the small side-problems that are making life so much harder.
If you are in one of those times – or if you simply want to make your life easier at any point – it is time to meet Martha Beck’s Bag It, Barter It, Better It, or Batch It strategy for handling an overwhelming to-do list. Let’s call it the 4 B’s for ease of discussion.
The step by step process:
Look at your to do list and star anything that you don’t really want to do. Then, ask yourself as many of these questions as you need.
Can I bag it?
Meaning, can I just not do this task? If you’re like me, you might end up with a legal pad full of tasks, some of which are really not all that critical. These are the “nice to do” things that are not truly necessary. If you find one of these and you don’t want to do it, liberate yourself – cross it off!
Can I barter it?
Can you find a way to exchange work with someone who likes a task you hate? The easiest example of this is paying someone to do something for you. If “change the oil” is on your task list and you just don’t want to get under the car (eh…I think you have to get under the car…this is one I’ve always bartered!), can you spring for a local mechanic to change the oil while you happily watch YouTube videos?
It’s important to stretch your mind on this one too. Of course if we had unlimited money, we could barter away nearly all tasks we didn’t want to do, but that is not the case for most of us. Buying out our task list is often in the wild luxury category, like the gift my mom gave me.
What you can do, though, is truly barter. For example, you might have a teenaged nephew who will mow your lawn if you lend him your car on Saturday nights. My sister and I – despite living far from each other – have an unspoken standing arrangement to help each other with tasks the other hates.
For example, she spent one of her vacations here helping me clean out and organize my apartment storage space. I thought this was the ultimate sacrifice, but she enjoyed it and wished there was more to organize. (One of many reasons I wished she lived closer!)
In turn, she gets paralyzed looking at spreadsheets and emails me whenever she needs anything changed or automated. I enjoy it and am always happy to play with whatever spreadsheet she sends.
Original Image by Xavier Vergés under creative commons license, text/frames added by Liz Connors
Can I better it?
You’re now at a task that you don’t want to do, but have to do yourself. This is when you get to bring out your creativity and see how you can make this experience better. A classic example is blasting music while cleaning and throwing in some dance moves along the way.
Often, I find that sub-questions can help:
- What can I add to this?
- What can I remove from this?
- How can I change this?
For example, if you hate your long drive to work every day, you might be able to add audiobooks from your local library to listen on the way, a cushy seat cover to make yourself more comfortable, and an essential oil diffuser to make the car smell lovely.
You might be able to remove any unnecessary junk or clutter from your car so that it’s a supportive environment. You might also be able to remove some stress if you leave a little bit earlier so you don’t have to worry about being late if traffic is bad.
You might change it by varying your route, trying out a carpool, seeing if public transportation is any faster or more fun. You might also change it drastically by exploring work-from-home options with your employer. (Technically that might be “bag it!”)
Can I batch it?
This is a bit of a bonus question – if you find that you have several similar tasks in your week that you don’t like doing, you might try combining them and bettering them as a whole. The easiest examples are responding to email, paying bills, and grouping errands together.
My favorite use of this is cook and freeze meals. There are some amazing, elaborate systems for this, but the basic idea is to batch your cooking so that you have maybe four hours of cooking multiple meals on one day, but then a freezer/fridge full of meals to eat for the week.
Years ago, my mom gave me a huge gift – a way of shifting my perception to solve the problems I can solve in the moment. I switched to paper plates (and cups!) for a little while. It’s not environmentally friendly, but it got me through those few rough months before I started solving the root problems and had time in my life for the essentials again.
I invite you to give yourself that gift this week; see how you can tame your to-do list to free up your energy to tackle bigger things in life. It might be you do this in order to have more time for a creative project, or time with family – or time to rest!
How can you transform your to-do list this week? Leave a comment and let us know how you can use one of the 4 B’s to deal with a dreaded task.