Here at the Homestead Maker, you will see a lot of pictures of me getting stuff done. This is misleading. I am extremely pregnant. I don’t get anything done. It’s all staged.
Okay, that’s not true. Sometimes, though, it feels that way. Compared to my pre-pregnant self, I’m basically useless. Although it is good that I’ve been forced to learn how to relax a little, if I sink too far into the not-getting-anything-done version of myself, I become extremely grumpy. Extremely grumpy plus extremely pregnant: I don’t have to do the math for you.
The problem is, when you’re not working on any big projects, it’s hard to get up and start. So I gave myself a little (long) pep talk, reminding myself of the things I have learned from getting up and doing in the past, and I realized something: I know how to get it done. I like to get things done. I don’t like to procrastinate.
The more I thought about it, the more I became convinced that nobody really likes to procrastinate. Maybe they just don’t know another way. Maybe you need my pep talk just as much as I do. Well, here it is.
How To Get Stuff Done
First, let’s take a look at this so-called “Stuff.” Some people think getting stuff done is over-rated. This is because they are only looking at one type of stuffs. Really, there are three types of stuff that generally fall into these categories:
Moving Forward Projects
“Daily Chores” is pretty self-explanatory. We need to do the dishes, take out the trash, and weed the garden, because if we put these things on the back burner for too long, they will grow larger and take over our lives. However, doing daily chores, while preventing chaos, does not actually move us forward. We may feel satisfied at the end of the day, but this feeling won’t last until the end of the month. Instead, when this is all we do, we find ourselves thinking: there must be something more.
Yes, there is something more, but first, you need to know what your goal at this part of your life is. Is your goal to get ready for your new baby? Build a house for your family? Become debt free? Anything you do that makes forward progress toward your goal is part of the Moving Forward Projects, and this is our sweet spot. This is the “stuff” that I’m talking about. You do it, you feel good at the end of the season, the end of the year. (If you don’t know what your goal is, you can’t really move towards it. You can’t “Get Stuff Done” in a meaningful way. I suggest looking elsewhere at this point for some goal setting tips. I don’t give that here. )
There’s a few problems here: this stuff is big stuff. It’s not always easy to figure out where to start. It’s not always easy to tell if you are moving towards the end goal.
This is where the third type of stuff, tangents, comes into play. Tangents are things that we do that aren’t part of the daily grind, but they don’t move us toward our end goal. One trap that is easy to fall into is believing that Tangents are Moving Forward Projects. For example, my goal is to improve my house so it is ready for the baby. Recently, I made a quilt hanger to hang up some quilts during the summer. Now, I can argue until I am blue in the face that this improves my house and I need to take care of my blankets so the baby will be able to be warm, but in reality, I know the truth. While useful, this does not actually move me toward my BIG end goal.
Lest you think tangents are terrible, let me list some other things that are, for most people, tangents (though depending on who you are, they could be Moving Forward Projects) : repotting houseplants, decorating for Christmas, booking a trip to Hawaii, and planning a daughter’s wedding. We do not need to do these things daily or even monthly, so they aren’t really chores. But can you imagine life without these things? They are easy to ignore in favor of chores or bigger projects, but they help us to create Zen moments, little spaces that life would be quite flavorless without.
So you see, Daily Chores and Tangents both have their place. But neither one really gives total satisfaction of Getting Stuff Done the way working on a Moving Forward Project does. Only a Moving Forward Project can create this feeling; by definition it is your most important project moving you towards your most important goal, which is what helps create meaning for your life.
The question is:
How do we make significant progress on a Moving Forward Project?
- Do Anything Productive. Look at how you spend your time now. Is it productive towards Daily Chores, Tangents, or MFP (Moving Forward Projects), or are you just completely wasting time and not being productive at all? As long as you are productive in at least one area, you can learn to make progress towards a bigger goal. If you are not productive at all, work on any area that you find the easiest to get started on, and move on to bigger projects as you build momentum. In other words: start getting stuff done, of any of the three types, because it will help you get on a roll. (Right now, get up and do the dishes.
- Make a Rule. “Work every day/week towards the end goal.” To figure out if it really is a MFP, some helpful questions are: Is this a temporary or permanent solution? Will this help me achieve “X”? What do I absolutely need to do to get where I want to go?
- Prioritize. Sometimes we have to cut down on Daily Chores and Tangents in order to focus on our “true work.” There are going to be times when we are working more intensely than others. Letting the house “go” may not be sustainable in the long run, but it can be necessary for the short term. When I was in elementary school, my mother and stepfather gutted our kitchen. We lived on takeout pizza and hot pockets for a month. I had to climb on top of the dining room table to reach the freezer. But at the end of the summer, it was back to eating broccoli and opening the freezer while standing on the floor, like a normal person, because my parents had reached their goal.
- Organize and Purge. That being said, I am a big believer in how our surroundings affect us. If we let our daily chores go too long, they can distract us from our true work. Get rid of belongings and time commitments you don’t need or want. Create a system for what you do have. (Easier said than done, but just google “simplify” to get started.) When we have a nice clean work space, we can actually get work accomplished in it. I’ve got a long way to go in this area, but I’ve figured out it’s not a one-time thing
- Create Accountability. I’m not the only one out there who works just a little bit better when I’m being held accountable for it. I’m going to prepare my garden soil today if I know that tomorrow a friend is coming over to help me transplant seedlings—but maybe I wouldn’t get around to it right away if that friend wasn’t coming over. This is how most people work, and that’s why so many people find success when they are at their 9-5 job, getting money and “gold stars,” but still struggle with Getting Stuff Done at home. You can create your own accountability. Tell someone you respect about your plans for tomorrow— and have them ask you about it later. Use a to-do list; writing plans down can be a powerful tool. Create an audience by asking for help with your project or documenting it. (Ever wonder why people with blogs seem to get as much done as people without, and they have time to write about it, too?)
- Enjoy It. We can Get Stuff Done with a lot of stress- agonizing when things don’t go our way, continually worrying about the next step, criticizing our past projects—but I don’t recommend it. Treating the one precious life we get to live with such anxiety makes us feel sour. So don’t. Allow yourself to feel satisfaction, pride, and good humor not just once the job is done, but during it. The journey does matter.
Now let’s see if I can follow my own advice. I’ve already said my goal is to improve my house to get ready for the baby. There are a lot of things on the list that move me towards that goal: running water, a front porch, improving the driveway, getting the baby room ready, packing the bags for the birth center. I can’t do it all at once, so I ask myself some prioritizing questions. Right now, it makes sense to get the baby room ready. I’ve got good energy already, having worked in the garden yesterday, so I feel pumped to begin. I’m not going to bother to organize or purge ahead of time, because doing the baby room is an organizing project. I’ve created accountability by buying a baby dresser, which is currently in the back of our jeep, and telling my husband that I will set up the room starting tomorrow. I’ve also planned to blog about the finished room next week, and now I’m creating more accountability by telling you about it. Lastly, I’m looking forward to it, and I plan to enjoy it.
What about you? How will you follow through?