Motivation tips for slackers

Today we welcome guest post writer Chaya Goodman, editor of the website Networx. Chaya’s website provides information on how to fix, renovate, and decorate your house.

I spent most of my life procrastinating, and, as a result, lived in very messy, cluttered apartments.  A year ago, I moved into a studio apartment and I made a binding resolution with myself that I would keep it clean and free of clutter. I can happily tell you that I stuck to my resolution. A messy, cluttered house can be symptomatic (or the cause itself) of problems with procrastination and motivation. As a former procrastinator who has undergone a transformation into a tidy minimalist, I’d like to offer some compassionate, but straightforward, advice:

  1. You can’t organize your life all at once, nor can you get to the root of your organizational problems in one fell swoop. Start small.

    First things first and last things last. I have a friend who can’t seem to hold down a job or keep a space clean, largely because she decided a long time ago that the root of her problems is that she can’t find the right community to live in.  Thus, she has spent years packing and unpacking her belongings, living out of boxes, and losing important items and holding onto stuff that she “might need one day.”  If you can’t hold down a job or keep a room clean, then work on getting up and going to work every day — don’t worry about why you can’t do it, focus on doing it.  Tidy up your house for 10 minutes every night.  Don’t skip town.  Eventually, the problem and its root might just disappear.

  2. Accept that work, especially house cleaning and organization, can be boring.  You might have to spend time doing tasks that you think are below your intellect.

    If you believe that you are too busy, intelligent, or talented for grunt work, your space is probably going to be a disaster area.  I know this first hand.  I used to write poems instead of doing dishes, or get so busy with community projects that I couldn’t find time to put away my laundry. Believing that you’re too smart for house work is faulty logic and egotism. Do I find folding laundry boring? Yes.  Do I sometimes wish I could sit and write instead of mopping my floor? Yes.  However, footwork is a means to an end. I accept that I get to read books and write stories after I’ve tidied up my apartment. Having a clean house allows me to think more clearly than ever, and washing the dishes is a great distraction-free time to brainstorm visionary ideas.

  3. Progress, not perfection.

    The biggest bug behind procrastination is making plans that are too grandiose. I used to write up these elaborate meal plans and organizational plans that always bombed, because they were far too ambitious.  One of the biggest revelations I’ve had in maintaining a healthy diet and reducing the number of dishes I have to wash is that I essentially gave up on cooking during the week.  I keep a large plastic bowl at work, and a sharp vegetable knife.  Twice a day, I take 5 minutes to rinse off a few vegetables and throw together a big salad in my plastic bowl.  For protein, I throw in some nuts or beans or sprouts, and I eat a couple pieces of sprouted bread from the health food store.  If I were limiting my definition of healthy eating to making elaborate macrobiotic meals, I’d be fat and unhealthy, and I’d have dishes piled up in the sink.  I found a way to eat my vegetables in 10 minutes a day. Is it a perfect diet? No, but it works.

  4. Know your limits.

    I’ve noticed that the cycle of slacking for me goes like this: 1. Taking on way too many projects (organizational or otherwise), to compensate for having slacked off; 2. Trying to do all the tasks using poor time management skills; 3. Failing at fulfilling responsibilities; 4. Giving up hope; 5. Slacking. When tasks start piling up, do not touch the dust of taking them on all it once.  Be honest with yourself — you’re not a superhero who can stop time. Instead, make a list and deal first with the task with the biggest penalty for slacking.  For example, renewing my driver’s license has the biggest financial risk associated with it, so I decided to undertake it before putting away my laundry.

  5. The best way to tackle responsibilities is to multitask.

    You can master time management by multitasking.  For instance, I like to throw dinner parties, but my minimalist kitchen only has one burner and a toaster oven, and I only have one morning a week available for house cleaning. When I throw a dinner party, my plan might look like this:  On the morning before a dinner party, I start by writing a list of tasks. Next, I organize what jobs I can do concurrently.  First I cook the rice.  While the rice cooks, I sort my laundry into piles and chop vegetables for stew.  Next, I put the stew on the burner to cook.  While the stew cooks, I take my laundry to the Laundromat on my block.  Once my laundry is out of the house, I sweep and mop the floor. Then, I wipe down my baseboards and windowsill. I take the stew off the burner and start making salads. I set the table.

    Eventually, you will be able to gauge how long particular tasks take, and you’ll be able to do several actions at the same time.

Essentially, what I have learned over the past year of staying organized and living efficiently is that the best safeguard against slacking off and procrastinating is doing the task now, whatever it is.  I often remind myself that whatever chore I want to put off will be harder later. The anxiety that procrastination causes is much harder than just bucking up and doing it now.

35 Comments for “Motivation tips for slackers”

  1. posted by Leslie on

    This is a very helpful post. I can’t even tell you how good it is to know that other people fall into that same vicious cycle in #4. Thanks!

  2. posted by Amy on

    It is nice to hear from people who have been messy procrastinators and now have it under control. I finally have my entire apartment clean at the same time (!!!) and am trying to work out a routine to keep it that way. I must admit that I’m fighting my mind which keeps trying to say that it’s only a matter of time… but it is encouraging to see that it can be done!

  3. posted by Kathryn Fenner on

    Wow–you really nailed me and my loved ones.

    The part about thinking you’re too smart to have to do scut work, and the grandiose plans part–both genius insights!

    I love Unclutter Your Life in One Week, but I have learned that it will take a much longer time for me. I am somewhere between One Week and one item a day, as the forum thread suggests. Slow and steady wins the race, though.

    I was also reminded of the “chop wood, carry water” concept of Buddhism. I do get great thoughts from doing so, and it is very emotionally stabilizing. During high anxiety times, like taking law school exams or the bar exam, I stayed calm-ish by having the most orderly space. I did well on the exams, so…

  4. posted by Desiree on

    love this post! i am trying to change my own ways, honed in years of “rebelling” against neat freak mother and husband… now i realize having a beautiful space is wonderful for ME and i need to do the work to keep it that way!

  5. posted by souggy on

    Thanks for the reminder!

  6. posted by aliskye on

    I love all of this, except #5. While it is possible to take care of things while rice or stew is cooking, it’s not possible to cut vegetables and sort laundry at the same time. I can cut vegetables, then sort laundry while rice is cooking, but not both at the same time.

  7. posted by M on

    Good advice. But multi-tasking is also the enemy of focus. Sometimes, solid blocks of uninterrupted time is what is needed.

  8. posted by Adventure-Some Matthew on

    I have to agree with aliskye… I thought the same thing as I read #5. “I’d manage to mix some carrots in with the socks, and vice versa!”

  9. posted by Tanya on

    I sure hope you don’t have other people or pets in your house (or any neighbors, for that matter): very bad plan to put something on the burner and then *leave the house*!!
    I don’t care how low the burner is turned, or how quick you think you’ll be back: you can forget your keys, suddenly have to help a traffic victim, think of another errand, whatever. Multitasking is one thing; being unsafe is quite another. Suggesting this to other people is irresponsible.

    Thanks for the other ideas, though.

  10. posted by Rebecca on

    I like to take an unpleasant task and match it with something fun. I can crank up my IPod while vacuuming or fold laundry while watching a video. I get to relax and accomplish some chores at the same time. Since I often don’t get much done around the house during the day with 3 little kids, I struggle to get things done at night, when I am tired. So instead of choosing between something I want to do and something that needs doing, I do both at the same time. I especially tend to do big batch cooking and canning at night, so I bring our one and only TV, a little 13 inch, into the kitchen and watch a video while working. makes stuff much more fun

  11. posted by Another Deb on

    Mundane tasks can be inspiring! Mindless tasks and repetitive motion get some kind of other gears churning in my brain and I can free up my brain to solve a few problems with all that extra blood flow to my head!

    Of course, that can happen during a massage as well….

  12. posted by Because I’m a Yoga Badass « The Weight-Loss Blog of Fattie Fatterton on

    [...] timely article from one of my favorite sites, Unclutterer.  The article is aptly named:  Motivation Tips for Slackers.  It’s like she’s talking to [...]

  13. posted by Chaya Goodman on

    Thanks so much for reading my blog post. I’m grateful for your responses. I want to respond to the questions you have about multitasking, because it is something that I have really mastered. Multitasking is an issue of working with timing. I’d like to show you how it is possible to cook rice, sort laundry, and chop vegetables for stew in the same 20 minute time period. Here’s how to do it: Once your rice has boiled and you’ve turned down the heat to simmer, go to your laundry hamper and dump all your laundry on the floor. Spend the next 7 minutes separating your laundry into 3 separate piles (whites, lights, darks). Put your sorted laundry into 3 separate laundry bags. Now go wash your hands. In the next 3 minutes, soak/wash your stew vegetables. Spend the next 5 minutes peeling and chopping onions. Take the rice off the burner to continue steaming. Put your stew pot on the burner and heat up the oil. Start frying the onions. Then chop the rest of the vegetables and put them in the pot. Yes, it can be done.

    Tanya: I hear your concern about safety. I don’t recommend leaving food on the burner unattended for long stretches of time. The laundromat is next door to my apartment. It takes literally 1 minute to walk there. I do concede that one should be careful, and I appreciate your concern.

  14. posted by Maggie on

    Love this.
    And it was written at the right time for me.
    I made a pledge to myself that I’d get organised and uncluttered in two months (do-able, now that I read your post).
    Also, excellently written.

    @Rebecca Yeah! I do that too, it helps to take the tediousness out of a chore.

    For me a good tip was, try not to read your email to often. Make time to sit down and write people. Especially, if you have family and friends abroad or far away. I do this every 2 days. I sit down, and write a great email which is full of stuff I can talk about.
    I was getting way distracted by wanting to respond right away. I am not that important.

  15. posted by Connie on

    When I’m wallowing in procrastination, I chant “see the work, do the work.” I was told it was a quote by Chairman Mao, but I don’t know about that. The other chant is “Do it now.” Often I find that the task I’ve been putting off doesn’t take nearly as long as I thought. I will probably always procrastinate to some extent, so it’s a constant battle to keep things from getting too out of control.

  16. posted by Megan Zuniga on

    Congratz on overcoming procrastination. I have problems cleaning around the house myself. And I’ve been told that cleaning and washing dishes, doing laundry has some therapeutic effect on a person’s being.
    I don’t know about multitasking though. I find it easier to get things done if I’m focused on one task at a time. But the way you described it made it sound so easy. I guess I should try it myself.

  17. posted by The Simple Dollar » The Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: Long Road Trip Edition on

    [...] Motivation Tips for Slackers With the multitasking bit, I’m fine with multitasking when it comes to tasks that require very little mental focus (as described there). Where multitasking fails is when you’re doing a task that requires even a little bit of focus, as multitasking and interruptions can disrupt your train of thought and seriously (negatively) impact your results. (@ unclutterer) [...]

  18. posted by Diane on

    I’m hooked on this site. Whether I’m ultimately successful or not, this site grounds me each day and yes, I agree, to the fact that others suffer from similar (not necessarily identical) woes and also come out another side of things.

    I had decided that finding work was more important than de-cluttering right now. But truth be told, I can’t think clearly in my space, over-ridden by paper since (a) I brought my Manhattan office home to my very small home office to run my firm, and (b) I had 2 accidents, one with my hand, one with my back, making filing and box lifting, etc. that much more difficult and am alone with my messes.

    Still, speaking with friends and this columnist, I’ve decided well hell, I have to do both. I dont have concentration to stay on un-cluttering task more than several hours. Then the gym or a walk to blow off frustrations. Then back to write letters for work, network with colleagues and others.

    I see there are 2 camps (and shades of grey in between) for unclutterers: (1) You are holding on for “a reason” – as if some deep psychological one (I have a psych degree, which makes me no expert but which does help), and (2) you spend more time sorting a paper at a time than it is worth in the drain to you, the loss of life time. Truth is, it aint about holding on, it’s about the pil-up followed by illness, then despairing. About the mess AND about work.

    And I find – my architect/designer friend has helped me with this – that if you’re not on “Hoarders” with a shrink, an organizer and a team of 6 bulky men hovering, more than 2 or 3 hours a day is ALOT. People dont just “lose it” because they’re being pushed, they’ve also reached a mental-okay, psychological too, limit for the day. Sometimes, you put a box aside as an “I’m not sure” box, The next day you’re ready to chuck it or sort it. Does it take longer than on Hoarders? For sure, but it can still get accomplished in a reasonable period of time

    The damage to one’s quality of life is compelling

  19. posted by Tanya on

    “Tanya: I hear your concern about safety. I don’t recommend leaving food on the burner unattended for long stretches of time. The laundromat is next door to my apartment. It takes literally 1 minute to walk there. I do concede that one should be careful, and I appreciate your concern.”

    This is exactly what I mean. “It’s only one minute away!” Don’t leave the house when something’s on the stove, period. Believe me.

    Made my point now, I guess. Good luck with everything.

  20. posted by Diane on

    Sorry, I meant to describe the 2 schools of unclutterers differently.

    One school is the “just dump it” – all of it and now, school. Things are in it that matter? You wont miss them.

    The other school is, it takes time. Yes, there are times you must pick up the pace but basically this is difficult and while all messes may look alike on the surface, truth be told we have different “stuff” – some of us have our WORK files (not 10 year old memorabilia of work), but stuff we are obligated by law to hold onto for long periods of time. It sucks but it’s the law.

    I reside somewhere in between each school. I start paper by paper. If I get myself on a roll, it graduates into more wholesale dumping — but still with an eye out towards what does or might matter. More on what “does” matter, as I proceed.

    Photos and strides I make along the way as I now re-begin the arduous task — but with an eye and a brain committed now to FINISHING the (ever-ongoing) task, will follow. I have gotten underway late last week, say May 20. By July 4 (approx 6 weeks later), I hope to have something to show for these efforts.

  21. posted by Margaret on

    I think the point about the multitasking is to not have big gaps of wasted time. E.g. if you are doing laundry, do you watch TV waiting for the washer to finish before you put things into the dryer? No, you do something else. Likewise, if you are cooking, do you sit at the table and read a book for the 20 minutes you have to wait (YES I DO!!!) or could you fill that time with something more productive?

  22. posted by Tanya on

    I agree with the comment made in point #2. I also find housework boring, but now treat it as a task that must be completed before I can reward myself with something. If I fold the laundry, then I can check out Facebook. If I clean the bathroom, then I can read my new magazine that came in the mail. This reward system seems to work for me!

  23. posted by The Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: Long Road Trip Edition | Frugal Living News on

    [...] Motivation Tips for Slackers With the multitasking bit, I’m fine with multitasking when it comes to tasks that require very little mental focus (as described there). Where multitasking fails is when you’re doing a task that requires even a little bit of focus, as multitasking and interruptions can disrupt your train of thought and seriously (negatively) impact your results. (@ unclutterer) [...]

  24. posted by marie on

    A visit to the laudrymat while having something on the burner is definitely a time saver and is almost up there with taking a bath while making some delicious toast for your breakfast. Or is having your house burn down a way to declutter?

  25. posted by Rae on

    Wow, Marie. Way to declutter the entire article, good suggestions and all, into one snide comment. You’re obviously so good at this, it boggles the mind as to why you even visit a site such as this.

    That aside, obviously safety is an issue at all times. To each his own. Thanks, Erin, for having such a great guest article!

  26. posted by Gillian on

    If your house will burn down because a toaster is left unattended, I’d recommend having a look at your toaster. Though the toast might go cold if it pops up before the bath is over…

  27. posted by Sarah on

    OMG, I feel like you are talking directly to me! THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!!!I have so much to do RIGHT NOW!. The list is a MILE long!!! … and see, I’m here reading this article, surfing the internet, and making sure I send this post. But it’s ok, I’m signing off now.
    I feel so motivated- really, you have done me a great service, i thank you!

  28. posted by All Kind Mortgage » Blog Archive » The Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: Long Road Trip Edition on

    [...] Motivation Tips for Slackers With the multitasking bit, I’m fine with multitasking when it comes to tasks that require very little mental focus (as described there). Where multitasking fails is when you’re doing a task that requires even a little bit of focus, as multitasking and interruptions can disrupt your train of thought and seriously (negatively) impact your results. (@ unclutterer) [...]

  29. posted by mariex on

    @rae
    “That aside, obviously safety is an issue at all times.”

    That was my point. I wasn’t trying to be snide but if you ever had a house burn down, it only takes a second and leaving a burner unattended is extremely dangerous.

  30. posted by shelterrific » Blog Archive » blogwatch: where we’ve been clicking this week on

    [...] Slacker might be a bit too harsh, but some of us are definitely guilty of some major procrastinating over here. Thankfully, Unclutterer is here to help light a fire under even the most lackadaisical, with it’s motivation tips for slackers. [...]

  31. posted by The Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: Long Road Trip Edition on

    [...] Motivation Tips for Slackers With the multitasking bit, I’m fine with multitasking when it comes to tasks that require very little mental focus (as described there). Where multitasking fails is when you’re doing a task that requires even a little bit of focus, as multitasking and interruptions can disrupt your train of thought and seriously (negatively) impact your results. (@ unclutterer) [...]

  32. posted by Take Note ~ Weekly Links on

    [...] Motivation Tips for Slackers ~ @ Unclutterer [...]

  33. posted by klutzgrrl on

    This – “Accept that work, especially house cleaning and organization, can be boring. You might have to spend time doing tasks that you think are below your intellect.

    If you believe that you are too busy, intelligent, or talented for grunt work, your space is probably going to be a disaster area.”

    has been bouncing around in the back of my head all week. It is so painfully true for me that I wondered if I had some doppleganger known personally to the author.

  34. posted by Pretty in Orange » Blog Archive » Because I’m a Yoga Badass on

    [...] timely article from one of my favorite sites, Unclutterer.  The article is aptly named:  Motivation Tips for Slackers.  It’s like she’s talking to [...]

  35. posted by Top 10 Links of the Week | Live [Simply] Free on

    [...] Motivation Tips for Slackers | Unclutterer As a former procrastinator who has undergone a transformation into a tidy [...]

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