The Daily Telegraph - Saturday
One step at a time is the way to a beautiful, tidy home
There are lots of rewards in our culture for worshipping at the throne of multitasking. You know how the standard response to “How are you?” has become, “Oh you know, busy”? That. It’s as if we define ourselves and our importance by how in demand we are and how much we have to do.
EXHAUSTING, ISN’T IT?
We might have hoped that being locked down would have allowed us to reassess that, with more time and peace to focus on doing one thing at once, but what with working while home schooling while regrouting the bathroom and worming the cat, for many of us Zen and the art of painting the towel cupboard were doomed before it even got started.
A lot of us start house projects and don’t finish them, and the very thought
of those incomplete tasks hangs over our heads like the whiff of week-old fish. And then there’s the gnawing, low-grade guilt about all of those halfdone jobs that sucks the joy out of life. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Today, I am offering my tips on how to get stuff done, and most importantly, how to finish what you’ve started.
First of all, do one thing at a time. All evidence suggests that when we try to multitask we are less accurate and efficient. There is an ugly rumour, often cited, that women are better at multitasking than men, but I think that is an elaborate hoax to get us to think that taking a conference call while whipping up a delicious organic moussaka is a good idea.
Do what you’re doing. Focus, even if it’s only for 15 minutes. To give yourself a reasonable chance of success, concentrate on the task at hand, and don’t sabotage yourself by setting unrealistic goals. Most often, when we fail to finish something it is because we haven’t allowed ourselves enough time to complete it. Give yourself time, or better yet, break projects down into doable stages. Rather than saying to yourself, this weekend I am going to tackle the garage once and for all (and then the sun’s shining, the birds are singing, you know the drill), make a timetable of jobs such as: go through old paint pots, sort out garden tools, tidy shelves… all things that in themselves won’t take long, but cumulatively, if you cross off one or two a day, will make an enormous difference over a week or so.
Plus, there is energy in small tasks completed that will spur you on to greater things.
We all know that feeling when we have something gnawing at us – an important email, a work task, fixing a tap, painting a wall. Then we finally get to it and we realise we have spent more time worrying about it than it took us to sort it out. Make a list today of your top five domestic bugbears. Find time to tackle them in the next week. Make proper appointments with them in your diary and stick to your plan. To motivate yourself, imagine how freeing it will feel to get them done and never have to think of them again.
A few years ago, I wrote a book about decluttering. In the process of gently decluttering my own house and later, while writing the book, I was struck by how much clutter keeps us hemmed in, tied down and plain stuck. It quickly became apparent to me that it was so much easier to clean and maintain a house that wasn’t overflowing with possessions I neither needed nor cared about. I devised three statements when contemplating how to get rid of my many encumbrances. h I might need this one day: When? What for? Be specific. h Someone I really care about gave this to me: Anyone who cares about you wouldn’t want you to feel burdened by something you don’t love or use. h I need to go through this properly:
You probably really don’t. If it feels like too much, tell yourself you don’t need to do it all now, but you do need to get rid of five, 10, 15 things (books, papers, cards, unfinished craft projects) right now. Don’t overthink it.
All the evidence suggests that when we try to multitask, we are less accurate and efficient
DON’T BE A PERFECTIONIST
The biggest roadblock to getting things done is perfectionism. Stand by for some greetings-card philosophy: done is better than perfect. Sure, one day you will get round to bees-waxing that table, but for now a quick dust will do.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO EVERYTHING ALL AT ONCE
Little and often is the way forward. Don’t exhaust yourself. Rest when you need to. Set realistic goals. Stay hydrated.