Creating as sense of order

About housework, mental capacity and time loss

Mess is a mind trap. When the house is a mess, then every initiative seems overwhelming due to things that need to first be done, found, moved, cleaned up, repaired, organised, before something else can be done. Mess flows from the surroundings into the circuits of the mind; clutters thoughts; blocks any overview and feeds on confusion. To begin to clear up a corner somewhere seems as futile as removing a drop of water from the ocean when there is mess everywhere.

Total mess is just one side of my personal Mess VS Order scale which goes right from one extreme to the other. I’ve been described as ‘extremely well organised’, ‘very disciplined’ and as ‘having an extreme need for order*’ and remember friends teasing me by aligning pizza boxes perfectly on the table. I’m extraordinarily well organised with my work equipment, preparation and work procedures and perfectionistic about organising information, for example.

However, not so with housework:

 
Why housework sucks

Housework fundamentally feels like a terrible waste of time because it is so perishable. You do something, and the next day (or week, or hour) it is undone again. I know… the point of doing it is so that someone else doesn’t have to. And clean and orderly surroundings enhance productivity and quality of life. Theoretically it does make sense, but in practice:

Housework is an endless ocean of fragmented little duties with no clearly defined beginning, ending or outcome. The sheer number of tasks is daunting, and the ambiguity drains the mind. What is most important to do first? How much is reasonable to do? Where does it stop? It never stops. For each task done, new tasks have already popped up. House chores are like those dragons that grow several new heads every time you cut one off. Plus when you don’t.

 

8 headed dragon
Source: Toho Kingdom


 
My incompatible private Time Zone 

I all too readily turn my back to chaos and retreat into my always tempting private Zone where I’m safe & at home, happily lost in my own time. On the Internet. Reading. Writing (this blog, for example). Observing. Thinking. Sensing. Listening to music. Watching YouTube videos. Systematising…  solo activities that feel great but don’t create the kind of value needed by other people.

Then suddenly it is dark outside the windows, and evident the whole day has passed – again – and nothing that ought to be done has been done.
(I know… I have already written about time loss like a million times)

A while ago I decided to seek professional help to try to sort out my employment situation and life, and I’m seeing a good psychologist who has devised a stages-based therapy plan. Recent focus was/is on organisation and sensory overload**. Here are some strategies that are helping to create a sense of order:

 
Mind capacity accounting***

First, my situation was pictured as a small, wide container with narrow taps, symbolising that I take in a vast amount of inputs, have a low capacity to contain them, and it takes a while to process them and drain out surplus inputs to make space for new ones.

The container is never totally empty, but has a ‘comfort’ threshold. Sensory overload is when the container overflows.  When the threshold is exceeded, overload is building up and it is only a matter of time before max capacity is reached. The key to avoid overload is to balance inputs with outputs.

Then I was asked to create a list of 1) chores and 2) activities/rest that help me to restore my mental balance. The former are the inflows into the container metaphor; the latter are the taps. I was then asked to assign points to both incoming and restoring activities on a scale; symbolising the relation between pour-in volume and drain-off capacity.

I said ‘it isn’t that simple’: number of points would vary depending on the context, and it isn’t really tasks in themselves that are draining but combinations of tasks; switching between tasks, prioritising what to do first, lacking overview. So I was then asked to assign points to the transitions between chores, and cluster them together to minimise transition costs. For example, bundle related kitchen chores together; and make time for breaks/boundaries between clusters of tasks.

The idea is to plan each day’s tasks and sum up their points, then balance the sum of  ‘incoming points’ (tasks and sensory inputs) with the sum of ‘outgoing points’ (the taps; mind recovery time; the reward for putting up with the inputs)… so that inputs balance with outputs. Sensory overload is then accounting failure!

 
Does it work?

Sort of. It doesn’t work well mathematically as such, because there is too much variation and uncertainty in the numbers, but: trying to do it changes the mind. It creates a sense of preparedness for a dreaded task to assign a value to it expressed as a number; defines a boundary. Makes is finite.

As I try to estimate the burden the task will place on my energy for the day, my mind mobilises the energy to stand up to it. The challenge becomes just another point on the agenda. I can adjust the total load of daily tasks according to how much I feel I can handle that day. I’m in control.

 
The rabbit hole all the time went into

I learned heaps from making the lists, especially the one with recreative activities. I saw that I spend a shocking amount of time daily recovering from the world and restoring my inner balance. I immerse in countless time outs throughout the day to avoid stress; I crave solitude with the awareness of time switched off. I visit the same freakin’ websites over and over, hum the same melody lines for days, loose myself in combining words in just the right way. I lay down on the floor on my back with my mind flickering through my private sky of stunning, fascinating, drifting visuals. Because it helps.

It is what I have always done, it is my way to calibrate myself for the world and recover from its people, reboot my mind and shield my sanity. Mind defragmentation time; little healing momentary eternities.

 
sand hills, retrostyle artified

 
 
Daily time task management with a Dry-Erase White Board

Then, I was recommended to buy a Dry-erase White Board for daily organisation. The points regime was supposed to be integrated with it. I haven’t found it practical to do that, but I find the White Board really helpful in creating an overview over each day.

Below is my White Board, which hangs over my desk. I use the left side for overview over the day, and the right side for a to-do list that breaks the agenda points into sub-tasks (if the day is more complicated than this, then the right side would contain only a break-down of the current/next planned task).

 
dry erase board

 
I plan Tomorrow right before I go to bed. While it isn’t realistic to expect to be able to 100% comply with the schedule, it creates a sense of predictability and makes me sleep better!

The Board is a simple non-magnetic Quartet Dry-Erase White Board. I chose it because it has a big surface but is very light, so I can grab it in my hand and take it with me around the house if I want to.

Simple, but it makes a difference. When I start to feel confused and unable to prioritise, I look at the board. If something I need to do isn’t on, I add it on. There. X O’Clock. No need to worry about it all day long to avoid forgetting to do it.

 
Related stories

 

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*I totally disagree

**Simplified and in not way exhaustive

***I made up the title

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7 thoughts on “Creating as sense of order

  1. musingsofanaspie

    Thank you for the mention. You made my day!

    I can really relate to your housework woes. I’m the same way – a perfectionist about work and organization but terrible when it comes to cleaning. I’ll step over the little balls of dog hair drifting around the kitchen for days before hauling out the vaccuum because it seems like so much work (even though I know it will take less than 5 minutes to suction them up and be done with it). It’s the getting started that’s killer.

    The mind capacity accounting is an interesting approach. I’m not sure I’d have the discipline to do the exercise unless a therapist made me, but as a way of thinking about balancing my day it makes a lot of sense.

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    1. Mados

      You are welcome! Reading those two posts mobilised me to complete & publish this one:-) Thank you for writing.

      I’ll step over the little balls of dog hair drifting around the kitchen for days before hauling out the vaccuum because it seems like so much work (even though I know it will take less than 5 minutes to suction them up and be done with it). It’s the getting started that’s killer.

      Sounds familiar:-) Actually, I used to step on them for months before even starting to consider that they could be removed:-) I agree that getting started is the killer, and also: when is it good enough, when does the task end? and what about all the other tasks, maybe some of them are more important and should be done first? Result of thoughts: the task doesn’t get done:-)

      I’m not sure I’d have the discipline to do the exercise unless a therapist made me, but as a way of thinking about balancing my day it makes a lot of sense.

      I find that what helps about these systems is what they do to my way of thinking; the systems themselves I’d probably redesign and make simpler and more efficient if I’m to use them practically on a regular basis. (actually I might … Maybe I’m no good at cleaning, but at least I am good at systems!)

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  2. Isaac

    Wow, your experiences sounds very similar to me. I totally get the housework thing – perishable is the perfect word to describe it when I look over at the sink and grumble because it’s never empty for long, or when I shake my head as the floor seemingly generates its own dust after I make a concerted effort to sweep as thoroughly as I can. Drives me nuts.

    I’m also way too comfortable operating in solo activities, and need active prompts (sometimes from others) to force myself not to become too comfortable in my routine.

    I also do the whiteboard thing. No matter how small the task is, once I’ve written it down, I take comfort in rendering it into a concrete tangible thing that must be done. Plus I get satisfaction when I accomplish it. I think it frees my mind from fretting about missing something, which definitely helps in alleviating a busy mind.

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    1. Mados

      Thanks for your comment Isaac!

      I’m glad I am not alone in hating housework! (although on the other hand, if everybody else loved it there wouldn’t be a problem;-)

      Whiteboard:

      No matter how small the task is, once I’ve written it down, I take comfort in rendering it into a concrete tangible thing that must be done. Plus I get satisfaction when I accomplish it. I think it frees my mind from fretting about missing something, which definitely helps in alleviating a busy mind.

      I use the whiteboard for the day’s bigger tasks (work household visits, admin, bills e.t.c). I haven’t found a perfect system for managing a plethora of small but draining household chores while keeping the overview over the day. I’m brewing with some sort of flexible picture card system with Velcro, where tasks can also be clustered together in some way. I will write about that too when I figure out how to do it, and implement it.

      Otherwise I can very much recognise what you write about making tasks tangible. Putting them on the board takes them off the mind – sort of, makes them into visible, finish-able accomplishments.

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    2. Mados

      I’m also way too comfortable operating in solo activities, and need active prompts (sometimes from others) to force myself not to become too comfortable in my routine.

      Being interrupted with active prompts sounds very frustrating though…

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      1. Isaac

        Oh definitely, especially when I’m in a specific routine or rhythm of doing things my own way. But I have learned that it’s not always about me – one of the realizations of being married. 🙂

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        1. Mados

          That is right. One of the good AND bad sides of being married is the need to adjust one’s behaviours to someone else’s need (and vice versa)… a long and challenging developmental process for both parties. Good point.

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