dirty dishes in the kitchen sink

relaxation and busywork

dirty dishes in the kitchen sink

While trying to manage all of my many responsibilities, I found that my productivity suffers the most when I let myself worry too much about the busy work I have to do each day. I used to put so much pressure on myself to get everything done that I usually got nothing done and instead wound up sitting on the couch watching television. Afterwards, I often felt extremely guilty for not only failing to get everything done, but also for wasting perfectly good relaxation time.

So after a few months of this, I finally figured out a way to keep up my productivity, get the busy work done, and still have time to relax. I decided to try to combine my relaxation time with the busy work. I don’t always do it, but I’ve learned that with certain tasks, I can adjust my attitude and actually become quite relaxed by the mindlessness of them. I found that by combining relaxation time with the tasks, I actually create more quality time for myself at the end of the day, and I get my bigger, more important tasks accomplished much quicker.

I first got this idea one day while washing the dishes. I came out of a weird trance to discover how intently, but calmly I was wiping dry each dish. I realized that the activity of it, the routine of flipping the dish over, then stacking it, was actually pleasing to me. I usually hate doing dishes, but that day I was sort of enjoying myself. I realized that if only I could change the way I thought of doing the dishes, then I could get something out of it. Instead of thinking of it as a chore, I started thinking of it as a puzzle to solve or a game to play.

I understand that this sounds a bit childish, but I think in order to be able to accomplish these tasks, I had to change my perspective. I tried applying this new perspective to the other tasks I hate, like folding laundry and answering emails. I was mostly successful this way too. I combined, for example, my email checking with my morning coffee. In the mornings, I like to sit outside and drink my coffee as I wake up. Because my mind is so used to the relaxation of this activity, I found that adding one simple task to it, like checking my email, didn’t actually disturb me all that much. I told myself that I could enjoy the morning and answer one or two emails. Then later, I wouldn’t feel stressed about those two emails while I was working on a bigger, more important project.

That has been the greatest advantage of this experiment so far: I have more energy to focus on the bigger things in my life, because the anxiety over the little things has lessened. Combining my relaxation time with my busy-work has allowed me to sort of enjoy both. Then at the end of the day, I can really sit back and relax, knowing full well I’ve accomplished all my goals, and all because of a slight attitude adjustment.

This guest post is contributed by Olivia Coleman, who writes on the topics of online colleges and universities.  She welcomes your comments at her email Id: olivia.coleman33 @gmail.com.

Photo: Some rights reserved by miss pupik
  • Jacq @ Single Mom Rich Mom

    This is similar to what Martin Seligman recommends in order to develop focus and flow:
    “…for the next week, use your strength in a NEW way. Find something you don’t much like doing and do it using your highest strength.”

    In your case (like my own), one of your highest strengths is probably creativity and originality. I turned my whole work life and response to work itself around by looking at it as a game. Now it’s like I get paid to play sudoku with a bunch of friends.

  • http://www.deeperintostrings.com/ Jay Janes

    I find that combining things with chores works wonders for me. I listen to podcasts or books on tape while I do dishes and clean. It makes the time fly by. The only downfall-
    I always seem to run out of podcasts and books!

  • helio

    Interesting that a man defines housework as “busy work.” To my mind, “busy work” is something that teachers, parents, and managers assign to children or employees to keep them occupied when nothing important is going on.

    Housework is sh!twork, quite a different matter. It’s miserable, mindless, repetitious stuff that HAS to be done, because if you don’t do it you’ll get sick, you’ll end up living in squalor, and all your neighbors will look down their noses at you. It’s the kind of work you would slough off on a poorly paid underling, not because it’s a waste of time to do it, but because you think your time is worth more than the underling’s.

    • http://www.bripblap.com Steve

      @helio: It’s not immediately obvious, but as Ruth pointed out this is a guest post. But I should add that I do a lot of the chores around our house, so whether the post was from a male or female perspective isn’t that relevant. I do the dishes most nights, I do laundry and I take out the trash, mop up after the kids, etc. I really don’t think of it as sh!twork. Even now, when my daughter is going through potty training – and that’s literally sh!twork – most days I can view it as a zoning-out activity, like brushing teeth or using the bathroom. It just gets done. And actually, like Jay mentioned, I have discovered that having an MP3 player with a good podcast – 48 Hours or Marketplace Money, etc. – can make housework more enjoyable.

      I think you’re applying too much negative feeling to the word Olivia used for a title. ‘Busywork’ in this case is just a short word for the title rather than ‘repetitive tasks’. And I don’t think Olivia’s point is that housework is busywork specifically; she could have used yardwork (mowing the lawn) or commuting or any other repetitive mundane task. I’ve written similar posts about commuting, for example. The point is mainly that she found a way to relax while doing repetitive, non-engaging tasks rather than resenting them, which is a good lesson, I think.

  • Ruth

    @hello: This was a guest post written by Olivia Coleman. (See bottom of post.) I’m just guessing that with the name “Olivia” the writer is female, so, whatever your objections to the term “busy work” might be, I don’t think it’s a gender bias thing.

  • http://funny-about-money.com Funny about Money

    LOL! I didn’t notice that! Just goes to prove what’s said in your link, in today’s post, to Smart Passive Income’s advice: “Write like they’re lazy”! :-D