Building Your Perfect Life: Hated Tasks

There’s a lot to be said for self-sufficiency. It’s nice to know that whatever happens, you can pay bills on your own and take care of yourself, and it’s also nice to know, as a small business owner, that you can make the whole thing run under your own steam. The problem is when you start to think that you have to do it all on your own, and wind up wasting a ton of time on tasks you absolutely hate: first by avoiding, then by slogging through, and finally by being so exhausted and angry that moving on to other tasks takes more time.

One of the most empowering beliefs in this world is that you can make marginal changes in your living situation. Some of these can require money, but not all of them do. What they require, unfortunately, is a bit of courage, so hang in there. Today, we’re going to tackle the strategies for making marginal changes in relationships, home life, and work. We’ll start with work, because often this can be the least fraught place to draw boundaries.

What are some work tasks that cost way more energy than they should? For me, one of them is email. This also plays out in my personal life, and my friends are now accustomed to me dropping off the face of the earth without notice – but that’s hardly a good way to handle business relationships, alas. Here are some strategies I use (and some one that I could use in the future) to change the way I do email:

  • Rewards: I’ve spoken about Habitica before, and it continues to be useful to me for giving me a little ticky mark (and maybe a new pet or piece of loot!) each time I answer an email. I’m not above bribing myself.
  • Limiting: I tend to limit in that I set a time frame (i.e., 4-4:30 PM three days per week) for responding to emails. That way it doesn’t hang over my head, because I know I’ll get to it, and I’m not tempted to go on my email other than that. Some people, however, will schedule one time every week or so, and have an auto-responder on their email saying when they check it. People tend to respond pretty positively to this, actually.
  • Exchange: I don’t presently do this, but if I knew more people around here who were running small businesses, I might. The idea is to have each person exchange a task they dislike but the other person doesn’t. Get together for tea at someone’s house, and exchange little parts of your business for a better experience overall!
  • Hiring a VA: many people I know hire virtual assistants for whatever thing it is they hate (or is very time consuming). Routine email communications, formatting and uploading books, querying daily book deal sites, or whatever the tedious parts of your small business are, there just might be someone out there to help you! (I don’t presently have the spare funds to do this, but I’d like to in the future, so that I’m using email only to keep up with my friends and family.)

What are some relationship tasks that cost way more energy than they should? There are a lot of things in relationships (friendship, family, romantic) that end up really taking time and energy. The thing to remember is that we’re free both not to participate in activities, and to participate in different ways. Some examples:

  • Perhaps you have one friend who’s a brilliant cook and likes to invite people over for lavish dinners. You, personally, hate cooking (or just don’t think you’re very good at it), and while you want to reciprocate the kind gesture, you’re stressing about doing so. But there are options! You could buy pre-cooked food (out here, Byerly’s and Whole Foods both have a pretty good selection), host a wine and cheese party involving little to no cooking, take people out to dinner if funds allow, or help your friend out another way, from babysitting their kids to bringing wine and helping with clean-up when they host.
  • Maybe you and a friend have a great relationship, except for one topic they like to bring up in conversation. For this, unfortunately, there’s pretty much only one way to handle it: draw the boundary. Remember that you don’t have to offer detailed explanations or apologies, and simply mention that while you’re happy to discuss anything else under the sun, you don’t want to talk about this. Be prepared to enforce the boundary once or twice! (And you’ll learn a good deal about your friend from whether or not they’re willing to honor it.)
  • What if all of your friends adore a specific activity, and you don’t? Remember that you’re perfectly free to tag along with or without participating (reading in the ski lodge is perfectly okay as an alternative to skiing if you enjoy it), or simply catch up with them all later. Remember that drawing your own boundaries here will make the group of friends (or family) stronger as people realize that they don’t have to do everything together in order to stay friends. You may see more people opting out of things in the future with less hurt feelings, as people realize that not every outing needs to be tailor-made to every participant.

What are some household tasks that cost way more energy than they should? This one can be tricky, because we have a boatload of expectations on people (including ourselves). The thing is, while the apocalypse might happen tomorrow and you’d have to exist all on your own, making dish soap from scratch and pounding your clothes with rocks, that isn’t exactly likely in the near future. Here are some examples of things you can do to free yourself up for other things you do best:

  • Again, rewards can be a powerful motivator here. Perhaps you hate washing dishes, but are happy to do so if you can bring your laptop along and watch a show on Netflix, or sing along with some of your favorite tunes. Maybe after you scrub the kitchen floor, you get to take a long, luxurious evening to curl up in a chair and read a book.
  • Exchanges still work here, too. Maybe one of you cooked and the other cleaned up, but it’s wearing on you both. Why not switch it up for while, or alternate days? Perhaps a friend of yours doesn’t mind dusting and vacuuming, and you really don’t mind cleaning kitchens. Just leave a cold beverage in each other’s fridges for when you’re done, and exchange away!
  • Hire some help. We did this recently. Turns out, we hate deep cleaning, and right now we have the funds to have someone do that. We handle the day to day stuff, and don’t have to stress about the scrubbing. And there are modifications on this concept! Read on.
  • Maybe you don’t hate a specific task, just little parts of it. So, for instance, you’d be entirely happy to cook if you just didn’t have to do the chopping, or the slow-cooking, or some other piece. Sure, you could do an exchange, but it’s also relatively cheap to outsource whatever the one piece is that you hate the most by buying frozen veggies, precooked rice, or something else.

Small, marginal changes can have a remarkable effect on your quality of life. Remember, it says nothing about you as a person if you dislike any particular piece of your life. It is perfectly reasonable to draw your own boundaries and make your own solutions, and to leverage your community to do tasks collectively. Often, the biggest impediment to changing our lives is the belief that we must be responsible for getting things done in a particular way. This week, try challenging that belief in one little way: when a repetitive task truly irks you, consider ways to change it or remove it from your life.

What are some of the changes you’ve made in your life?

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