And then they got home, and there were piles of tasks, emails and messages waiting for them. The urgency of those piles threw them off their best intentions.
The urgency of piles throws off all of our best laid plans.
~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/piles/
If I could have one wish this holiday season (maybe I should start marking silly pop-culture references in a different typeface) it would be that you’d just go read everything he’s written. If I could have two wishes, it’d be for you to click on his name which takes you to a listing of all of my posts related to him, and then for you to continue onward to read each of his things I’ve linked. But, to dig specifically into his topic of piles, I’ll try to make a point about working all the way to done.
Some things are never going to be done in the sense of disappearing from your life; our household will always have a gentle snow of tax-related paperwork accumulating through the year. That’s technically a pile. But that pile has a home (out of sight) and related things always, immediately go on that pile, where they sit until tax season. That pile has no tension associated with it. Laundry is the same way; of course there’s always some dirty laundry in a “pile” (both a physical pile and in baskets which have homes.) But again, no tension. That’s where dirty laundry belongs.
What causes tension is when your expectations (I want things a certain way—like a tidy, uncluttered home) conflict with reality (the mail, taxes and laundry are strewn about.) The key is to realize that the second 90% of anything is the unglamorous part we’d prefer to skip. We want to jump ahead to the first 90% of the next thing.
What do I mean by the second 90%? Filling up the gas tank as you approach your destinationis part of the journey. What does done look like driving somewhere? The car’s normal state is to have some reasonable amount of gas in it. Drive it (the first 90%… the fun part involving getting somewhere) and get gas (the second 90%… the un-fun part including leaving early enough to have time to stop for gas.) What does done look like mowing the lawn? I need the time and energy to clean the mower at the end. What does done look like doing laundry? I have time and energy to do the ironing, folding and putting-away parts. And yes, big project that involve multiple sessions of working? Each session has it’s own done to reach.
Do this for everything. Every. Thing. Ask: What does done look like? Do I have enough time and energy to actually get to done? …or am I just excited by that first 90% and I’m going to quit there?
You’ll quickly realize you cannot get everything (literally everything) to a “done” that corresponds to your expectations. The hardest part starts once you realize that you’ve over-stuffed your life. The real problem is that you really don’t have the time and energy to do the second 90% of every thing. The real solution then is to make the hard choices to undo the mistakes that un-simplified one’s life.
And by “you” I mean “me.”