When you first got married, you were told: “Never go to bed angry.”
As a new mom, you’ve probably heard: “Try not to go to bed with a sink full of dirty dishes. It’s so much better to wake up to a clean kitchen than one filled with yesterday’s mess” (or something along those lines.
That is absolutely true. It does feel better, not to mention it smells better too. But at the end of the day when you’ve fed your family, gotten the baby to bed, and maybe you’re pulling the second part of your split shift, cleaning out the sink can be a lot to ask.
Different Seasons, Different Priorities
I remember that before my kids were sleeping through the night, I would prioritize my sleep over a clean kitchen. That often meant doing a quick load of the dishwasher and leaving the rest so that I could fall asleep shortly after they did and clock at least a few pre-midnight hours before they would inevitably be up.
It’s true. We have to make concessions based on our priorities for whatever it is we’re going through at that time. It’s why looking at daily routines, understanding what is most needed, and figuring out a way to prioritize those things is critical work that I do with all my coaching clients. We can’t do it all... at least not all at once.
But as the season changes, maybe as you’re getting more sleep, or you’ve decided to outsource dinner, or cook more simple one-pot dishes that don’t require as much clean-up, do you find yourself falling into the same old habit of leaving those dishes, thinking “I just need to rest for a minute. Then I’ll get to it.”?
Old Habits Die Hard
I know I do. I’ve gotten into the habit this summer of walking out of my son’s room after goodnight kisses (he’s 4 and the last of the two to go to bed), turning the corner into my room, and falling down onto my own bed, face first. Sometimes it is just a quick 5 minutes to rest my body, but sometimes I fall asleep and find myself in the same position, in my clothes, hours later. Not fun. (I much prefer pajamas, a clean face, and a little bedtime routine before falling asleep...by choice.)
Sure, some of that is just because I’m tired. But some of it is that I think what I need to do that evening to clean-up or prep for tomorrow, will take me longer than I have the stamina or energy for. But in reality, that’s not entirely true.
Give Yourself Proof...Set a Timer
I can’t remember where, but years ago I heard a podcast interview with a working mom who said she was tired of always putting off unloading the dishwasher. Meanwhile, her sink would pile up with the dirty dishes waiting to be loaded into the dishwasher after the clean ones had been unloaded. Anyone, anyone? (my hand is raised). So she decided one day to set a timer to see how long it actually took her to unload the dishwasher. It was something like less than 3 minutes. That’s nothing! And she never put off unloading the dishwasher again.
When we don’t get specific about something - our next action step, the amount of time we’re going to commit to something, or how long that task actually takes - our mind makes up a story for us. It wants to answer that question, and it wants to make it seem hard. But if your brain knew that 3 minutes was all it took to do a simple household chore that could make you feel better at the end of the day, that’s a no-brainer.
I can delay my sleep at the end of the day by 3 minutes. Heck, I can delay it by 15 minutes if it means unloading the dishwasher, wiping down the counter, and folding some laundry. Knowing how far away the end of a task is really puts new meaning to the phrase “the end is in sight”.
This same tactic can also be used for the fun, “self-care” things that you’re not doing because you 'don’t have enough time'. How long does it take you to read 10 pages of a book, paint your nails, do a sun salutation, write a page in your journal, make a cup of tea, write a letter? Probably not as long as you tell yourself when you opt to fill your time with other, less meaningful things. There is a balance. And knowing how long anything takes you is an easy first step.
So your action-item for this week is…
- Pick 2 household tasks that you dread doing. For me, that’s putting away clean clothes, paying bills, and wiping down the table after meals (my kids are messy with a capital M!).
- Pick 2 “self-care” ideas that don’t require you to go anywhere or buy anything. For me, that’s reading some pages in a book and writing in my journal.
- Do those tasks...TODAY. Or do 2 today (one of each) and 2 tomorrow. Set a timer. Don’t work absurdly fast. Just work at your normal pace and see how long it takes. Jot down the time if you want to remember.
- Then think about that for a minute. In the grand scheme of life, is 10 minutes of putting away laundry going to break you? Going to wipe you out for the week when you’re tired? Or how impactful was 5 minutes to write a page in your journal? Did the effects of that last much longer than the few minutes it took to take care of you?
- Don’t procrastinate. Now that you have proof of how little time those things take, don’t put them off. You know the old saying, “why put off until tomorrow what you can do today?”
Don’t let your mind scare you off from doing something because you don’t have the time. You have the time and you have the energy. Picking up so you feel better tomorrow is worth a few minutes. Doing something for you that doesn’t involve an elaborate day at the spa or evening with the girls, is also worth it.
And having a little timer holding you accountable, is not necessarily a bad thing.