Monday, May 5, 2008

Productivity for mums - Part Three

Previously in the “Productivity for mums” series I've looked at the importance of a routine and how to use a calendar and diary. Today's post shares how I'm slowly overcoming my perfectionist, control freak tendencies and actually getting things done.

I am a huge procrastinator. Or I should say I was a huge procrastinator. Don't get me wrong, I still procrastinate but I've found some tools and methods that have helped me get a start on things, and just as importantly, get them finished.

In my life before being a mum, the managers at the company I worked for undertook one of those psychological assessment surveys to find out and improve on our management styles. When my survey came back it said I was a perfectionist. Surely this can't be right, I thought to myself. I never do things perfectly - there's always something wrong. That, the trainer informed me, is a typical perfectionist attitude. It turns out that it is this perfectionist attitude that stops me from starting or completing things. Do any of these scenarios resonate with you?

  • We have been talking about getting a water tank installed for our garden for approximately 18 months. Why haven't we got it yet? I have to research types of tanks, requirements of the council, suppliers, installers, where would we put it, how would we use it, and so on. My self talk go something along the lines of “What if there is another option that I don't know about” and “What if that's not the right choice”. This leads me to do more research rather than actually just doing something about it.

  • I have wanted to have a vegetable garden for ages. Where should we put it, what direction should it face, what would we plant, should the tall plants go at the front or the back of the plot, what if they get bugs?

  • I started a birth scrapbook for my youngest child, with the aim of doing one for each of the kids. About 18 months later, the photos, wrist bands and embellishments are in a folder in the study. How should I put the pages together, what if they don't look how I imagined them, what should I journal, where should I put the journaling, do I have enough of the right paper?

As I write this down, I can see how mad it all is.

The first tool that I've used to break the procrastination cycle is a To Do list. It was all very well to procrastinate when I could remember what I was procrastinating. I could do the old last minute frenzy and get things done. Since my memory has become slightly frazzled, however, things just go on being procrastinated because I've forgotten about them.

The first thing I do when preparing a to do list is a summary. Get the major “projects” down on paper. If I left it at that though, I would get nowhere. I would look at the item, have the image of how it should turn out in the end in my mind and go through the endless self questions and research cycle. Instead, I break each major item down into small steps. The smaller the step the better. The more specific the step the better.

With small steps, I can visualise what the end should look like for that step rather than the whole project. This is much less daunting. It also has the added benefit of making progress more visible. As I've previously mentioned, I'm an on again, off again Flybaby. A couple of Flylady's mantras often pop into my head when I'm trying to get something done. They are “Baby steps” and “Progress, not perfection”.

For example, rather than have “Clean the house” on my to do list, (which to be honest is enough to park me in front of the computer in avoidance for the day), I might have “Mop kitchen” and “Wash dining room windows” for today and a couple of other jobs each day for the remainder of the week.

What do you think of when you see “Clean the house”? It's not specific. It could be anything and for me, it would be huge - call the carpet cleaner, sugar soap the walls, etc. However, “Mop kitchen” is a discreet action. Once you've done it you've done it. You can tick it off and give yourself a pat on the back.

Another tool I use is my diary and calendar combo. I can see where I can fit things in at a glance.

It's a long road to change habits of a lifetime. However, by not being too defeatist when things don't turn out exactly as I had imagined and acknowledging successes, I'm making baby steps.

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