Getting it all done as a productive homekeeper is a balancing act between adhering to strict routines and complete, total, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants improvisation.
Let me clarify. On the one hand, certain things absolutely require regular, seasonal attention.
- If the seeds are not planted in Spring, there will be no harvest in Summer.
- If the dinner dishes are not done in the evening, the breakfast dishes will not be clean.
- If the kids are not fed dinner they become hungry and insufferable.
- If the plums are not dried when they ripen, there will be no dried fruit to snack on in mid Winter.
- If the chickens are not kept in fresh water and food, they will suffer.
- If the laundry is not done for awhile, you will run out of underwear.
- And so on.
So things like this, if you want the outcome (and there is no rule that you must – you can pick and choose which outcomes you want) – then you must do the work, and – importantly – do it at the right time.
This might mean once a year there’s one big push, it might mean every night there’s a little clean up. But as sure as the sun rises in the East and sets in the West, these routines and patterns rise up, over and over, as things to be done to keep a productive home running.
And then there’re…let’s call them emergencies, in the sense that these things must be tackled with immediacy. You take action now or never.
- If this cow isn’t assisted with this birth now, the calf will die.
- If I don’t take the bread out of the oven now, it will burn.
- If I don’t take the laundry in off the line now, it’s going to get rained on.
- If I don’t water this wilted transplant now, it will not make it through the heat of the day.
- Honestly, I’m having a hard time thinking of other examples. Far fewer things in life are emergencies than we fool ourselves into thinking.
Between routines and emergencies, there’s everything else that needs to get done at some point or another.
“Everything Else” is a pretty big category, and it’s probably the stuff that leads to you feeling overwhelmed – because these are the items that aren’t so urgent as to require immediate action now, but they still stick there, in the back of your mind like a rat chewing at you, whispering that you will never, ever be done.
- Make laundry soap
- Make the weekly bread
- Prune those trees
- Paint the shed
- Replace the broken down composter
- Clean out the gutters
- Get new T-5 lights for the seed starting rack
- Haul out the chicken coop bedding
- Make holiday gifts
- Scrub out the oven
- Expand the garden
- Buy emergency food for long term storage
- And on and on and on.
The Everything Else category could go on for pages and pages, and I’ve made To Do Lists that do. Single spaced. (I do love lists.) But if you think of your Everything Else category as marching orders that you must slavishly follow, checking one task after the next off your list, you will go insane.
Let me reiterate: you will go nuts, you will burn out, you will fill with resentment and you will feel like a failure for not “getting it all done.”
But you are not a failure. And there is no done.
The critical thing you must remember about the Everything Else category is that it’s flexible. It is not obligation – it is productive play that you can do when you want to.
We call it The Flexible To Do List around here.
Yesterday I made laundry soap. It’s been on my Flexible To Do list for….oh….maybe 3 months. Last night I just did it. I don’t know why, exactly – I was just in the right mood for laundry soap making.
Now, if we had gotten to the point where we had no laundry soap, this item on my Flexible To Do List might have become an emergency to be dealt with. But that wasn’t the case, so laundry soap just floated around until I felt like doing it.
Most things in our productive home are like that.
I am not, despite rumors to the contrary, a particularly organized person. I force myself through discipline to attend to those routine things because I enjoy the result, not because I enjoy routine in and of itself – in fact, I am far more a project-oriented person than a routine-oriented person.
So for me, attempting to turn every item on my to do list into an obligation with a set time and a due date is a recipe for disaster. Faced with a calendar of homestead tasks that I feel I must do, on top of the routines I actually must do to keep the place running, I’m as likely to hurl myself into a Netflix binge as accomplish anything.
I become like a petulant child screaming, “You’re not the boss of me!” to a chore list that I, myself, crafted.
But with a Flexible To Do list, I can pick and choose productive tasks that fit with my mood du jour, energy level, available time and whatnot.
And in this way, everything gets done when and how it needs to get done, eventually.
That’s how it works around here. How do you get things done in your productive home?1
The flexible to-do list perfectly describes my approach to keeping things moving. Aside from picking off to-do items based on available time and inclination, I also make a point of doing a quick survey about once a week to see what need to be tacked soon, to keep them from becoming must-do-right-now items (i.e., those sad apples in the crisper need to be made into sauce/butter this week or they’ll end up in compost).
Have you tried Google Keep (keep.google.com)? My husband introduced me to it last year. If you are a google user, it is *GREAT* for keeping these flexible to do lists. We keep a shared list of house maintenance tasks. I have another list of garden-to-dos. I like having it for those days when we think, “Hey! No soccer or basketball games today, let’s get stuff done!” We also will sometimes use it as a shared shopping list –I can be at home checking the pantry while he’s on the way to the store.
jen b-k says
Love this….I farm….goats, gardens, chickens. Previously my calendar was over-run with notes and lists and post-its. January 1 I decided that I needed a better system…one book for records and one planner for dates. I still have one big, huge list, but I picked through and assigned myself some tasks for January….some have to be done (we start our seeds in TX in Jan), but some just need to get done for the farm to progress. I’ve already assigned myself some February tasks too from the big list. So a monthly list has a few “have tos” and few “get it done” tasks but I don’t feel overwhelmed by that huge list. My daily list is now written on a medium post-it and if I don’t get it all done that day it just becomes the next day’s list. FLEXIBLE. So far it is working well and I feel a lot less stressed about getting it all done, because as you say, “There is no done.”
“There is no done.”
Maintaining the house was really getting me down, and then I read a line (I think from FlyLady) that went something like “Nobody ever says ‘Now I have eaten once and for all.’ But people always think they can be done with cleaning!” That one stuck with me.
My husband forwarded this post to me (I keep falling off of your subscribe list – maybe 3rd time is the charm : D) I think because I’m a master list keeper. I HAVE to be – we live on Bainbridge island, he commutes to redmond and we are building a 24 acre farm 30 miles sw of Olympia in our “spare” time. Plus it comes naturally to me – I worked in a major law firm for over 20 years managing complex litigation cases where it ALL has to get done yesterday…
We use the family room in OneNote to manage all of our shared shopping, errand and misc TO DO lists and it works pretty well. I approach lists pretty much the same way you do – I’m constantly revising, shifting and updating them. I don’t think he perceives me or the lists as being flexible though – probably because he is not a list maker nor does he excel at being organized, but I know he appreciates my organization and management skills [most]of the time.
I have to admit though that there are times when I feel completely overwhelmed by the multitude of TO DO lists so I am grateful for the new mantra “there is no done” although in my head it sounds like Yoda “there is no done. There is only do.”
jen b-k says
“There is no done. There is only DO.” YES. Yes. Yes. This is my new mantra.
Thanks so much for posting this. Only recently have I found comfort w/ the notion of a flexible to do list. Prior to that, everything was an obligation and I was driving myself nuts trying to get all the things done.
I feel like I should love lists. I read the “Checklist Manifesto” and I observe others using lists and finding them useful . . . and then I want to barf as I start one.
My problem is – I used to have a nearly photographic memory. I never needed a list, it was in my head and I could edit it right there. It got me through college and into my career without needing to do much studying. But as I’ve aged, my trusty memory is getting much less trusty, but I have no fallback skills like list making to bolster me.
I use them for shopping, sometimes. I will sometimes put one together, and feel all accomplished if I check things off. I still try, but it feels alien and uncomfortable. I lose them, despite several attempts at use of a bound journal or smart phone apps.
Long term lists are beyond me. *sigh*
This is cheating, because it comes from YOUR book, but I like it and it’s made a difference.
I keep thinking about presents my today self can give to my tomorrow self. Who doesn’t love presents?!
So, today self has become great at taking a few minutes here, a few minutes there, and the another few later on in order to prevent tomorrow self from having to do stuff. It’s hilarious that something so silly can motivate me when few other things can, but it works!
So, let’s say I’ve put a pot on the stove to boil potatoes. I look at the kitchen floor and realize it really needs to have the corners cleaned with a scrub brush, and not just the mop. Tomorrow me ain’t got time for that. I’ll do it now for her and she’ll be so happy! Now the potatoes are done, the corners are clean, and tomorrow me is happy as a clam.
My list is so flexible that I write new items that were not on the list just for the pleasure of crossing them out ( if that makes any sense) ☺️ Does that defeat the purpose of a list?
I totally do the same thing!
David (TGC) says
Like my Dad, I’m not a finisher. My to do list has stuff that’s been unfinished for months. So I’m coming at this from the opposite angle.
What’s helping me get stuff actually done is a surplus day planner my wife gave me. Like your flexible to do list, I load up tomorrow with the tasks that both need (emergency) and want (I’m inspired to do) to get done. I’m accomplishing more and not feeling so dejected at a to do list that taunts me with undone tasks.
Glad you have found a system that works for you!
Ugh. I am so UNdone this week. I have been doing so well creating a Wednesday – Sunday full house cleaning routine, then missed it both days this week….
…the final straw was when my old cat has developed a new ability to get into cupboards. I came home yesterday to find she knocked a bunch of stuff out of the cupboard, which my dog then ripped into shreds and ate, and then EVERYONE WAS IN TROUBLE.
Back to the Wednesday – Sunday discipline.
Ah! This speaks so much truth for me as well. I also find that adding too much structure and expectation to my days only leads to frustration and procrastination. I scrapped my old list at New Years and have started a new running list for 2016….
…making laundry soup might be something fun to test out… 🙂
DIY laundry soap is easy. There’s a recipe in my book that I use, or the internet is full of ’em. But yes, for me too, excessive structure (even self-directed structure) can start to feel like a straight jacket.
I was a terrible, terrible planner (still not fantastic). My life was revolutionized by 1 piece of advice:
Before you make a “do” list, make a “don’t ” list. Figure out the 3 things that often cause your day to go wildly off the rails, either functionally or emotionally. They go on the don’t list and anything that would cause them to happen is a no-no. Example: if your mother often calls and gets under your skin, stop answering the phone. That’s what voicemail is for. If you feel like a bad mother because all the car-time running to activities causes regular bouts of banshee-screaming then reevaluate all those activities and get out of the car.
My “don’t” list saved my life.
Love the Don’t List idea! It’s similar to focusing your energy on those things you genuinely value, and refusing energy to those things you don’t. Very healthy stuff in that.
DH and I made a list of homestead projects last spring for the entire year. Then prioritized them: fail means things will die, fail means it will cost money, fail means it will set us back a year. Then want and would be nice. A shocking number of things in the first three categories got done and nothing died. Calling that a win.
I feel that an important component in the “to-do” list are the biggish things that stay done for a good while. The times we get the most overwhelmed is when we’re stuck on that treadmill in which everything we do is undone almost immediately, and needs to be re-done the next day, or week, or month. Parents of small children know all about this– entire days can be spent on nothing but feeding kids and doing laundry. It’s the big projects, like “paint the shed”, or the crafty ones that can be done a bit at a time (a quilt, block by block), that give us that sense of something actually, finally, getting somewhere.